A Birth and a Death

I am not going to leave you hanging on until the end, hoping the story will end how you want it to – I am telling you up front that this post ends sadly, with a death.

Our second ewe, Stella, lambed on Sunday, which was the first day of her expected due dates based on the ultrasound.  She took her dear sweet time getting to it – her symptoms started more than 24 hours before the lamb was born.

Saturday around noon she was acting very uncomfortable and restless.  Her udder had suddenly bagged up that morning and was giving milk.  As we were outside working on the property we saw her lose her mucus plug, and then she had quite a bit of discharge coming out.  She continued to be restless and uncomfortable for several hours.  We thought for sure the baby would be born that evening.  But by about 9 pm she was acting normal.  We checked her every hour all night – nothing changed at all – all that exhaustion for nothing.  Sunday morning she seemed less excited about her breakfast, but she did eat some of it.  Then she continued to act normal, and continued to have discharge.

About 1 pm she started getting really uncomfortable.  She was laying down, getting back up, walking, pawing the ground, trying to lay back down again, only to jump back up a few second later.  After about an hour of that behavior we closed her into the stall.  For the next hour she would stand quietly for a few minutes, then would paw the ground, try to lay down but pop right back up as if laying hurt her and then stand quietly again.  The area right in front of her hip bones became very indented (a sign the baby is in the birthing position).  She continued to try to lay down but then get right back up, and finally settled into pushing in the squatting position.  She would push, walk around, push again, and so on for about 30 minutes.

The baby was in the proper position, and after a lot of hard work on the part of Stella, he fell into the world.  He was limp and not responding to being licked by Stella right at first, so husband went into the stall and cleared off his nose and mouth.  Then he started shaking his head and took his first breaths.  Stella went right to work bonding with him and drying him off, and shortly he was standing and nursing.

He was a white, ram lamb.  He was a purebred Lincoln Longwool (a different breed from our ewe lamb Lily), and he looked quite a bit different than Lily.  His head was slimmer with a more pronounced muzzle, his body was also slimmer, but his legs were longer.  He looked like he was on stilts.  His wool was longer and curlier than Lily’s.  Also, Lily’s skin is mostly pink under the white wool, his was dark grey under most of his white wool.  My dad owns Stella, and thus this was his lamb.  He named him Goober since he took so long to make his entrance to the world.

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Goober was up and going quickly.  He went right to work finding food and was an eager eater.  He had several meals and strengthened quickly.  Monday morning he was doing well, still eating and strong and bouncing around the stall.  Since Tuesday was going to be warm, we decided we would dock his tail Monday night and let him out into the barnyard Tuesday.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to do either of those.  Monday around noon I noticed a little bit of diarrhea on his back legs, but then husband saw him have a normal bowel movement, so we figured we better just check on him more often and keep an eye on it.  So we did.  When we went to check on him mid-afternoon little Goober wouldn’t get up.  He was lethargic and weak.  He had really bad diarrhea at this point.  We called the vet immediately.  The closest large animal vet is about an hour away.  The vet was out on calls and couldn’t get to us for hours, which we didn’t have.  So we called a different vet.  He said he could head our way after one more farm call, and that meanwhile, we should force feed him some electrolytes, give him some kaopectate, and give him a penicillin shot.  We did that, but as we waited he began going downhill very fast.  He was crashing and we decided to load him into the car and take him to the vet instead of waiting for him to get to us.

He perked up a bit on the drive, it seemed the force feeding was helping.  At the vet he was given antibiotics (in case it was a bacterial infection) and tube fed more electrolytes and colostrum.  The vet sent home a bunch of meds and told us we needed to continue to stomach tube feed him through the night every two hours, and continue the kaopectate and other meds.  By the time we got home, he was doing much better.  When we gave him back to Stella he wearily tried to stand and nurse, and had some success.  We were hopeful.  But then suddenly he fell over and began seizing.  We called the vet immediately and the vet said it was likely a hypoglycemic seizure and that we needed to get corn syrup in his mouth asap.  Meanwhile, he stopped seizing and went completely unconscious and unresponsive.  He was still breathing, but that was it.  We gave him the syrup, and he was supposed to pull out of it within ten minutes or so.  But he didn’t.  So the vet suggested we continue dosing him every fifteen minutes and tube feed him every two hours.  We continued with the syrup, and gave him his 2 hour tube feeding (2 hours from when the vet tubed him).  Finally, after two hours of unconsciousness, he woke up.  He was groggy, but seemed much better.  He slept sternally, which was a good sign (instead of laid out on his side).  The vet said then to go to syrup every hour and tube feedings every two hours.  We continued this all through Monday night, and he improved all through the night.

By Tuesday morning he was up and walking around, nursing, and bouncing.  We all were very excited that he had pulled through and was out of the woods.  But then suddenly around 8 am he seized again. And again went unconscious.  We continued with syrup and tube treatments, we tried a couple different injections the vet suggested, but he didn’t return to consciousness.  He became hypothermic, so we brought him inside and warmed him up.  He regained consciousness for about two minutes, and then slipped back away.  By about noon there was still no improvement and we knew that he was on his way out.  We decided it would be best to let Stella have him back, to help her understand that there was something wrong and so she could be with him when he died.  We moved him back out to the stall at noon and continued to do whatever we could to help him, but around 3 pm he seized again and died.

We fought for the little guy’s life for about 24 hours.  There are many theories of what happened, but there are also many questions that are unanswered and many things that didn’t make sense.  Ultimately, death of baby animals on a farm comes far more often than we want.  They are fragile, and sometimes their bodies just aren’t able to adjust to life outside the womb.  It is such a hard thing to deal with, but it is part of farm life.  If we want to accept the good parts, we also have to accept the hard parts.  We are exhausted, and very sad.  As we get rested up, and time goes by, the pain will become duller.  But even though we only had him a very short time, we will all miss our little Goober.

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8 thoughts on “A Birth and a Death

  1. What a sad story! How is Stella doing? You did do everything you could but sometimes it is not meant to be. So sorry it had to end this way. Thinking of you and this loss. Hugs, Patti

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    • Thanks. Stella is doing ok. She is still looking around and calling for the lamb some. It is really hard to see her doing that. But it seems like it is less than she would do if we hadn’t let her be with him when he was dead. It is less than she was doing when we took him from her to go to the vet and to bring him inside to warm him. So that makes us think it must have helped her some.

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  2. So sorry for your and Stella ‘ s loss. What a wonderful picture of this very short circle of life, and of the pure hope, perseverance and love for these babies and their mothers! Thank you for sharing such a raw moment.

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