Rose has given us quite a ride this lambing season. It was her first breeding, so we really did not know what to expect from her as far as symptoms. We had seen her bred and solidly placed her due date on May 30. But then when she started building her udder and showing significantly in the belly 6 weeks early we started questioning her due date.
Sometimes livestock can have a false heat after they have already been bred and they allow the male to breed them again even though they are pregnant already. We have had this happen with a cow before. So when she started showing those signs at 6-weeks out we started wondering if maybe she was due 3 weeks before we thought. We had never had a ewe start building her udder sooner than 4-weeks out. So we started keeping a close eye on her, and were guessing she would go by May 15th, which would have been her previous heat from the one we saw her bred.
The days continued to go by, with no lambs. She passed the 15th, then the 20th, and the 25th. Her belly grew and grew to the point it was so tight I thought it would rip open. And her udder….we have never seen an udder this big on a sheep. She was trying to rival the milk goat’s udder. It even swung when she walked. Crazy.
I starting thinking…twins? She has a very short body from her shoulder to her hip…so that must be the explanation for the hugeness of her belly. But what about that udder? That udder was preparing to feed several lambs.
We continued waiting. And waiting. Any of you who birth livestock at your farm know how the waiting can be so annoying because you don’t want to leave the property, especially with a first-time mother that is so huge, because what if it IS a single…then it could very easily get stuck in her inexperienced pelvis. So you feel trapped at home, but then nothing happens day after day. The waiting gets wearing.
Her due date came and went. The next day Fiona birthed her lamb, but still Rose held on. I took this photo when I was sitting up in the barn keeping an eye on Fiona and her new lamb, making sure he was eating well. Rose just lay there, looking oh-so-huge and uncomfortable.
Then Saturday morning arrived, and Rose didn’t want her breakfast. Great! We knew she was on her way to lambing. We had a full list of things to do on the farm that day, plus some friends visiting us that afternoon. So we jumped right into our work around the farm and kept an eye on Rose. She continued to be somber and quiet all morning, and not interested in eating. By noon she started showing some signs of having contractions, but was still moving around from here to there. Our friends arrived at 1 and we took them to visit Fiona’s lamb, Avalanche. Rose was laying there chewing her cud and looking very relaxed. We decided to set my timer for 15 minutes and take turns checking on her so we wouldn’t miss anything while we were busy visiting with our friends.
At 1:30 Sunshine came back in from checking her and said there was some progress, so I ran out to see and sure enough the water bag was coming. Everyone came out, excited to watch, but I think the large group caused her labor to slow down some from the crowd. So everything kind of stopped for 30 minutes or so. We decided to leave her alone for awhile, but then just as we were heading out a foot appeared. Just one foot. We sat there for awhile trying to decide if the other foot was right there about to come out, but she pushed and pushed and pushed and made no progress, just the one foot. It became clear that there was a problem.
We live an hour drive from the closest large-animal vet, which makes it necessary for us to deal with our vet emergencies largely on our own. We keep a good vet kit and lambing kit to assist us in that endeavor, and we read a lot to help prepare ourselves for whatever we may face. My college studies in animal sciences, and my previous jobs as a vet tech also help.
I donned my gloves and Mtn Man restrained her (which was no small feat, she was bucking and kicking and none to happy about the situation). I followed the one leg in and found the head turned sideways, with the other leg up and over the top of the head. The head was sandwiched between the two legs and the whole lamb was on it’s side. I grabbed the upper leg and brought it down and around with very little trouble and that straightened the body out. A couple pushes from Rose and the lamb was out. She at first was so traumatized by the fact that we had restrained her that she didn’t notice the baby was out, but once we showed him to her she went right to work cleaning him off. We checked and saw that we had another ram lamb. This little one is pewter colored, like his father. Black legs, neck, and face, with a very dark grey body (that will likely lighten with time). He didn’t have as many face markings as his dad though, just a silver dot under each eye, and his body was much darker. And he was a nice big size, equivalent to Avalanche.
The kids started discussing names and they thought that Tornado would be fitting since he was twisted up during the birth, and it seemed to go nicely with Avalanche. Our last lamb name theme was flowers…and this year it seems to be – natural disasters??? LOL.
We hung around with them for about an hour, watching him get up and nurse successfully. Mom settled down and started eating once she finished cleaning him. When he settled in for his first nap we decided to head back to the house to finish our visit, again checking on the every 15 minutes to be sure everything was going ok and to watch and be sure the afterbirth came. 30 minutes later, a full hour and a half after the delivery, Sunshine went up to check and came running down yelling “There’s another foot coming!”
We all jumped up and ran out to the barn. There was clearly another foot. ONE foot. AGAIN. We waited and gave her a chance to push, hoping maybe the other foot was right there, but then we saw the muzzle and still just one leg and we knew that, again, there was trouble.
I donned gloves and Mtn Man restrained her while Sunshine protected the first baby from the wrestling around. Rose was even more upset this time and was jumping and making a ton of noise. I was hopeful maybe this one was sideways with the other leg over the head like the last one, since that was so easy to fix…but no such luck. The other leg was bent back, fully back. I had never dealt with this type of mal-position before, though I had seen pictures and read about it. And it was definitely more complicated than the first baby’s mal-position.
I worked my way around in what was a very tight space, trying to find the knee. Rose was pushing with all her might against me and I was not surprised when later I found bruises on my hand from the whole ordeal. I found the knee and hooked my finger around it. Meanwhile, my other hand was on the outside trying to push the baby back in while still keeping track of the other foot and head so they didn’t bend back as well and then make everything more complicated. I slowly worked my way down the foreleg, the cannon felt impossibly long, and I felt I would never get to the fetlock and hoof. Rose continued to push against me and I continued to try to breathe and picture in my head what I was feeling. Mtn Man was super encouraging, he has more confidence in me than I have in myself and he was calmly encouraging me to take my time, and saying “you can do this.” I finally got to the fetlock and then Rose embarked on a new assault on me, trying to shove me from her womb. I desperately tried to keep my position at the ankle and not lose any ground. It’s understandable, really, the poor girl was in a lot of pain and it was hard enough without me trying to share space with the baby.
She settled for a second and I was able to push the last little bit and get my hand around the hoof. I cupped my hand around it and tucked it back against the fetlock. I finally had a hold of what I needed, but now I had to figure out how to move it around at an angle that felt completely impossible in such a cramped space. I was terrified of rupturing the uterus and also scared to hurt the baby’s leg and leave it potentially lame or worse. I worked slow and steady and found myself amazed at how flexible and “rubbery” God made newborns. It is really a helpful thing when you think about what they have to go through. And it helped me as I eased the leg along, straightening it out and trying to get it headed the right direction. As I came up to Rose’s pelvic bone everything crammed and progress stopped, but then she eased up a bit and it clicked up and over the pelvis.
I quickly grabbed the other leg again to be sure they were both there and that we didn’t lose the other one. The relief I felt at that moment was huge. I had both legs! I had successfully brought the leg around! The hardest part was over. Then, while holding them both in one hand I used the other hand to carefully make sure that the head was still in good position. It was, Praise the Lord! Then I sat there, holding each leg by it’s ankle, waiting for Rose to push and praying the baby was alive. I hadn’t felt it move at all during the whole process, and since it was an hour and a half behind the other one, I had concerns about whether it was still alive. Most twins come within an hour or less from the first, and after that the death rate increases greatly.
While I had been inside her she had pushed and strained against me constantly. Now that I was out and the baby was in the correct position she just stood there and did nothing. The poor thing was probably exhausted, and very sore. So we just sat there, giving her time to rest and waiting on her body to get back to work, but not willing to let go of the feet we had worked so hard to get. After awhile she started straining again and now that the lamb was in the right position it came right out into my lap.
Another pewter lamb…but this one was a girl! She has a lot more of the silver on her body and a lot of silver markings on her face, just like her dad. And she was just as big as her brother! They were huge for twins…which explained Rose’s giant pregnancy size. She was carrying a full twice as much as Fiona was. I believe that the overcrowding of her first-time mama womb is what caused the mal-positions. I think the lambs just couldn’t move enough to get into the fully right position.
We kept a close eye on her and she was up and nursing in good time. We called the vet and gave Rose a shot of penicillin, just to be safe since I had to go in.
The kids discussed it and decided to name her Storm…keeping with the theme of natural disasters I guess…LOL.
Both lambs were doing well at nursing, but within about 12 hours Tornado started going downhill. He was lethargic and clearly not thriving as much as Storm was. Lamb loss is a large part of breeding and raising sheep, but it is still frustrating and hard to take. We began running through the options of what it could be and we quickly realized that Rose was not making enough milk. We gave all three of them Nutri-Drench to give them a boost and we began supplementing both twins with a bottle. Tornado perked back up pretty quickly and both of them seemed to be doing pretty well at 24 hours old, though not quite as lively and thriving as Avalanche.
Being Rose’s first time it might just be taking a little longer for her milk to fully come in. It is surprising, considering the size of her udder before birth, but it happens. We are continuing to supplement the lambs with just enough milk to keep them from going downhill, but not so much that they don’t keep nursing on Mama encouraging her milk to come in. We will see what happens in the next few days. Either she will make enough for both, which will be the best option because we will be able to stop supplementing them. Another option would be that she continues to only make enough for one, in which case we can either leave them both on her and supplement them both, or we could take one away from her and make a a full bottle baby, leaving the other to have all her milk. Or she might not make enough for even one, in which case we will need to supplement them both, or make them both full bottle babies and let her dry up.
I am all for leaving babies with mamas until weaning, so I am leaning towards any option that keeps at least one baby but preferably both babies with mama. We will see how it all plays out.