Sunday, April 29, 2007

From the Eye of the Storm

Every few years the fairly random timing of lambs results in a "lamb storm"...several births taking place at the same time or in very quick succession.

I returned home from work tonight and found one young ewe showing a bag of water, another with remnants of undelivered afterbirth. A bit of a search by flashlight turned up the missing lamb on the pasture: pure white, perfectly formed, but very small (4 lbs.--half normal birth weight) and a bit premature. Cold and thoroughly dead. The ewe gets credit for being a good mother: the lamb was quite clean and dry.

I moved the two young ewes to the derelict barn, and rigged up a light. A third young ewe was already in a pen in the barn, being treated for an infected foot (due to injury, not foot rot). She looks like she's ready to lamb any time, too.

The one with the water bag--an obvious Lucy daughter--was not in heavy labor yet. The best thing to do in such a case is SOMETHING ELSE...some ewes just won't lamb with an audience. So I checked the other ewes...nothing happening...came in the house, read e-mail, etc. for awhile....

When I went back out, the ewe was laboring more. I watched for awhile, not sure if this one will require intervention or not, wondering if it's another preemie because the ewe isn't very "bagged up" (i.e., very little udder development). I heard a lamb crying out in the main sheep pen...probably one of Lucy's, who are ranging further and further from Mom each day....

I kept hearing the lamb cry, and finally went to investigate...sometimes the small ones "leak" through a fence and can't get back. There was a small lamb wandering alone in the middle of the pen...but wait a minute! This isn't one of Lucy's! It's a newborn!

Then I heard more newborn voices behind the big round bale of brome... and there was Berry two OTHER lambs for a total of 3! Two rams and a ewe, pure white and wagging typical East-Friesien cross tails. So I moved her to the barn., too. These new triplets are even more active than Lucy's, though small.

Right after the lambs are born is another good time to DO SOMETHING ELSE, so I'm fortifying myself with the essential Extreme Moose Tracks ice cream, and thawing some of Bertha's extra colostrum for them. That first meal is so essential to lambs...within the first few hours of life they are better able to absorb the antibodies that the ewe transmits through her first "milk". Without those antibodies, their chances of survival are slim. With triplets, and especially small ones, I like to "tube" them with 2-4 oz. of colostrum (from their dam, or frozen from a previous birth) so that I know they each got a fair share.

"Tubing" was a scary thing for me at first, esp. since I learned it from a book and some important details didn't quite sink in. Now, it's a quick, easy, no-stress operation. I kneel with the lamb between my knees, facing away from me. I tip its chin up and insert the tip of a rubber catheter in its mouth. Gently I push the tube in as the lamb chews and swallows, an instinctive reflex to having something in its mouth. When the tube is mostly inserted, I listen to hear the gurgling of the lamb's stomach--assurance that the tube is not in the lungs. Then I secure a 60CC syringe (no plunger) to the catheter and hold the lamb's head, the catheter, and the syringe with one hand while pouring the colostrum into the syringe with the other. If the colostrum is thick enough it doesn't drain through on its own, I gently blow into the top of the syringe. If it's really thick, I dilute it a bit with warm water. When all the colostrum is in the lamb, I give a last blow to make sure the tube is clear. Then I quickly whip the tube out of the lamb's mouth, to avoid leakage into the airway.

The lamb shared between Bertha and Eider did finally figure out Bertha's enormous teats--partly because I kept them milked out and flacid. He's now pretty much Bertha's. But I did milk out a good supply (2 lbs.) of colostrum, which I froze immediately. Colostrum is always thawed in hot water, never in the microwave which would destroy the crucial antibodies and enzymes. (Does that say something about microwaving our foods?)

Now I'm heading back out. More later...but probably not before I get some sleep.

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