Hope, as a young lamb, runs with stick.
A few weeks ago I wrote about our first set of lambs of the year and my thoughts about lambing in general. In part I said, “Granted I’ve assisted à la Herriot several times, but things usually go according to plan, and assisting isn’t as scary as I thought it would be.” That, apparently, was tempting fate. Mother’s Day brought the lambing from hell.
Background: We have a charming ewe named Hope who became the darling of my HFSheep Yahoo group 3 years ago when I posted a picture of her as a happy lamb racing up the hill carrying a stick in her mouth.
I bred Hope so she’d lamb within a week of her half-sister, Izzy. Both are first-time moms; these often have single lambs. If we breed them close together, their single lambs have playmates. Izzy gave birth to a cute black ewe lamb on May 4. It was a fairly uneventful birth.
Hope had been acting “off” for a few days, staring introspectively into space and occasionally taking herself away from the others as though she might lamb, so I watched her closely. On Mother’s Day morning she went into labor. I brought out my lambing kit and camera and settled in for another routine birth. It was not to be.
Hope was in labor, but nothing was happening.
Hope got down to business, and her water bag burst. From that point there should have been front toes showing within 30 minutes. There weren’t. So I slathered up with SuperLube, examined her internally, and found nothing but a very big head. In fact, an enormous head, and it was sideways instead of vertically aligned with Hope’s tail as it ought to be. I called John to come help if need be, and the ordeal began.
I pushed the lamb back into Hope’s uterus and began feeling for feet. There was only one. I worked it into position and kept searching. Nothing. It was desperately hot that morning. Sweat was running down my face, Hope was screaming, and there was no second leg. Because she was a first-timer and tight, there was no possible way she could deliver the lamb with one leg back, nor could we pull it. John called the local vets; no one answered. He finally said, “Let me try.”
After an excruciating amount of time, he found the leg and worked it into position. Once it was, there was too much lamb to fit through the birth canal. We’d used a full lambing-kit bottle of SuperLube at this point and hauled out another. If we couldn’t pull the lamb, Hope would die. Even if we did pull the lamb, there was still a strong possibility she would die. Ewes can’t bear much pulling. They tear internally, and a ruptured uterus can’t be fixed. I promised Hope that if she survived this lambing, I would never, ever breed her again.
So I held Hope, and John filled all available space with SuperLube and slowly, painfully, over a period of maybe 5 minutes, managed to pull the lamb.
Arthur is huge!
The lamb flopped onto the straw, looking very, very big — and dead. I quickly stripped fluid from his nostrils and checked: he had a heartbeat but wasn’t breathing. We swung him, we shook him, and then we tried a primitive CPR technique I had learned from a century-old book while researching The Backyard Sheep. It worked! The lamb gasped, sneezed, and shook his head. We set him in front of his exhausted mom, and as if nothing was wrong, she began talking to the lamb and cleaning him.
We named the little guy Arthur, short for Wolf Moon Wee Mad Arthur (for a Nac Mac Feegle character in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. He was strong once he began breathing and was up on his feet in record time.
There was blood, more blood than a normal birth, so I was very much afraid Hope would die. Yet she struggled to her feet in less than half an hour, and soon she was feeding baby Arthur. We immediately began treating her with penicillin for infection (always necessary after an assisted birth) and Banamine for pain and inflammation, giving her homeopathic arnica and Bach Rescue Remedy on the side. Then the waiting began; if we had perforated her uterus or birth canal, she would likely die within 3 days. She didn’t. After 5 days I began breathing easier. Somehow, Hope survived. From water bag bursting to Arthur’s first breath, it took nearly an hour and a half to deliver Hope’s lamb. Now I know what assistance “à la Herriot” is really like. And it was a Mother’s Day I (and Hope) will always remember.
Hope loves her new lamb.
Wee baby Arthur samples grass.
Ten days later Hope and Arthur are doing fine.
Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.