Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A difficult birth -- A Lamb

Lamby doesn't have a real name yet. His was a difficult birth. His head was floppy and turned back in the womb while only one front leg appeared in the birth canal. His brother was born first and dried and suckled hours before Lamby was discovered--stuck. That was on Saturday afternooon.

We did our usual once around the barn and pasture looking for impending births. This happens once an hour during the day in lambing season, plus a couple times each night. Lamby's mom had been checked and was found to have passed her placenta so all was well -- or we thought, until Sarah saw the one dried foot sticking out in the place where it should have been clean.

The Shepherd's wife was called on to perform emergency groping. Was the lamb dead? The single foot didn't respond when being squeezed. Reach in a hand to find the second foot and bring it forward. Pull the two feet gently. No head follows them. The head is turned back in the womb. Can't find the head.

Push the feet back in. Pull only one out to locate the shoulder. Feel up the leg as far as I can. No head. Yes, its a front leg. Push it back in. Pull out the other leg. Feel up that leg as far as possible. Still no head. Lamb must be dead.

Push everything back in. Make the ewe stand. Reach in as far as possible. No hurry if the lamb is dead. Have to get the lamb out to save the ewe's life. Be gentle. Don't want to injure the ewe or perforate the uterus. Reach in again. Pray for help to the Good Shepherd.

Reach in and repeat the above at least 3 more times, while squatting on the barn floor trying to keep my balance. The barn smells are strong. The air is damp. My body shakes from the effort and I have to stand up to stop the shaking, before squatting again to begin the groping once more.

Robin holds the ewe still, with his arms around her neck. She's over 200 lbs. All low to the ground. Sarah leans into the ewes side to keep her in position. We need her to keep standing. If she lies down, with my arm in her pelvis, it will break my arm. I talk to the ewe using gentle, soothing words and explain that I'm trying to help her get the lamb out. She calms down and relaxes her pushing, so that I can push the lamb back in. And begin the groping once again.

My arm is in up to the elbow and my fingers are feeling along the lamb's body while I talk out loud. Talking out loud helps me "see" inside the darkness of the womb. There's the leg. This is the top of the lamb. Oh, I feel an ear. Ear's too slippery to pull, to turn the head forward. Follow along the ear. There's an eye, the nose, the teeth. Ok, I've got the mouth. My thumb's in the mouth. Pull forward. Done. The head's where we want it. Did the lamb's mouth respond? Is it alive after all this time?

Now, pull the two feet out again. Is the head still there? Sarah, grab these two feet -- my hand is too slippery to grab. I'm shaking now, from squatting for over 45 minutes. I didn't notice before but now that we're close to being done I can barely stand. Pull down, Sarah, toward the ewe's feet -- not too quickly. Now stop, yes, the heads into position. Ok, pull it out. All the way.

Hold it upside down. Is it dead? Liquid pours out of its nose and mouth. Its limp and lifeless. No wiggle like a live lamb would do. Rub it vigorously.

It opened its mouth. Its alive.

Shift into emergency mode. Can it breath? Sarah is rubbing the lamb vigorously with a towel. Its not breathing but its heart is beating. Robin runs into the house to get e-sel for the lamb and penicillin for the ewe to prevent infection. E-sel is selenium and vitimin E -- we find that deficiencies in these cause muscle weakness which sometimes cause these types of births.

The ewe begins to help lick off the lamb. Sarah rubs vigorously. I cover the lamb's wet nose and mouth with my mouth and puff air, gently, into it lungs, squeezing the lungs gently to exhale, and puff in again. After three gentle puffs the lamb begins to breath. It is floppy. Can't lift its head. But its breathing.

Esel gives it an instant jolt of strength and it lifts its head. Sarah continues to rub it vigorously. Ian and Miranda drive up the driveway. A surprise visit from the coast. "We were shearing in Rock Creek today and wanted to surprise you. We have to leave at 6:30 (2 hours from now). We brought ice cream", Ian smiles. Miranda comes into the stall with the ewe to help. She and Sarah take over rubbing the lamb and milking some colostrum from a goat that just gave birth (easier than convincing the ewe to give us some of her milk) and they dribble the life saving colostrum into the lambs mouth.

I go into the house and add a few lamb chops to the evening's dinner preparations. Dinner is ready in half an hour.

The lamb has eaten and is under a heat lamp, with his brother. Both lambs are weaker than normal so lamb number 1 gets his esel shot too. The second lamb hasn't stood yet. Will it live?

We visit with our son, Ian and his lovely fiancee, Miranda, and send them on their way home to the coast, with provisions for the week -- fresh eggs, and meat. Its snowing. We try not to worry. Ian is used to driving in the snow. He gets home after midnight and emails that they are safe.

In the morning the lamb is weaker. His tongue is cold and he is hypothermic. He is placed in the kitchen in a box and warmed with a blow dryer. More colostrum is dribbled into his mouth. The thread holding him to life is fragile. He isn't standing and can barely hold up his head. He gets a second dose of e-sel. An emergency measure. We leave him on a heated flax bag, in a box and head out to church, expecting to find a dead lamb when we return.

The lamb receives colostrum dribbled into his mouth every 4 hours on Sunday. Monday morning the lamb can lift his head up. And stand for a few seconds if someone puts him on his feet. By Monday night the lamb can walk around the kitchen but still can't stand up by himself. He isn't sucking but lets the milk dribble down his throat.

He doesn't baa. He spends his time standing in the corner, always looking for dark corners to lean into. He responds to loud noises. He doesn't respond to visual clues and we aren't sure if he can see.

Tuesday -- today, I wake up and he hears me and stands up in his box in the kitchen. The first time he has stood up on his own. He responds to sounds and sees me and walks towards me. A tiny baa comes from his as I pick him up. He still isn't sucking but every day is progress.

Sarah loves to have a bottle lamb. And today Lamby gets his own name -- "Kiwi". He picked it himself.

Joybilee Farm

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