I love an uneventful lambing, and that is what Autumn and Fiona have given us this year. Daisy, however, did not go that route.
Tuesday morning, 2 days before her due date, Daisy wouldn’t eat breakfast and was hanging out by herself in the far corner of the barnyard. It was clear she was in labor. We worked on the gardens and kept a close eye on her all morning. After two hours of labor she still hadn’t started pushing, but with first-time moms that early stage can last up to 12 hours, so we weren’t worried. She continued to hang out up in the corner, and then go into the stall, lay down, get up, and go back to her corner. After 3 hours of labor I saw her give one push, while standing, but then nothing for an hour. Then she did another sort of push, while standing. And again nothing. At this point I started to wonder. We had a goat do this same thing, with random half-hearted pushing separated by 30-60 minutes with no pushing and she ended up having a breech. So I knew that we were going to have to take some action if things didn’t start progressing soon.
At 1:30, which was 5 1/2 hours in, and 2.5 hours since she had started the random occasional half-hearted pushes, I decided it was time to see what was going on. She had laid down in the stall, so we closed the door and Sunshine held her while I checked. She was, by far, the most docile sheep I have ever checked and did not fight much at all. As I put my hand in I immediately found a huge head. No feet. Just head. And a very large head at that. And Daisy’s pelvis felt tiny compared to the head. I have re-positioned and delivered many babies over the years without the help of the vet, especially since our vet is an hour drive away. But I knew as soon as I felt that head and the size of her pelvis that we were in big trouble and needed to get the vet on the way asap. I called and found out that he was currently at another farm, but would head our direction as soon as he was done there, but that I obviously needed to keep working on getting the baby re-positioned and out on my own. I called Mtn Man and told him that we had some major trouble and if there was any way he could get away from work and come home I needed help. He said he couldn’t leave right then and encouraged me that I could handle this on my own with the kids’ help.
So Sunshine and I went back to it. She made sure Daisy stayed down and didn’t kick too much, while I worked on figuring out the baby. I pushed the head back in as much as I could and pretty easily found the first leg and got it in position. But the second leg was another story. It was SO TIGHT inside of her and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I finally found it, but because everything was so tight I couldn’t tell if it was her leg or if it could possibly be a twin’s leg. The angle it was twisted into made it feel like there was a hock (that it was a back leg not a front leg). I kept running my hand along it, trying to figure out what it hooked into, all the while in the tightest womb I have ever been in, barely able to move at all. It was taking a lot longer than I hoped and as the minutes ticked by I got more and more concerned for mom and baby. Baby hadn’t moved or twitched at all the entire time and I was pretty sure it was dead. And mom was clearly in a lot of pain and struggling. At some point in this all Mtn Man arrived. I was SO relieved. Not because he could really help – he has big hands and arms and couldn’t get in there any better than me, and Sunshine was doing a great job of holding Daisy. But just for the emotional support to help me get through the whole ordeal and whatever was going to happen. He is my partner and best friend and I don’t want to homestead without him.
We decided to try to elevate her rear end up on a bale of shavings and see if the repositioning helped. It did not, it actually made it harder. So we went back to on her side with the stuck leg on the upper side. I went back to work on it, decided that it had to belong to this lamb because the lamb was so huge. I finally got it to come around. As it was coming around I felt something give and there was a gush of blood. I was afraid that I might have torn her uterus and had a total rush of anxiety and fear. But I had both legs in position and the head in position, whether I tore her or not, it was time to get this baby out!
In the past, once I have the baby in the correct position, it has always come right out easily. I eased the legs out and got to about the knees, with the tip of the baby’s nose barely visible. And then it just totally wedged in place. She was pushing, I was pulling, and it wasn’t moving even a tiny bit. The head was very big, her pelvis was small, and it was stuck fast. I tried pulling one leg, then the other, to wiggle the shoulders – nope. I tried pulling it to the right and then to the left to try to change the angle a bit – nope. All the while pulling down towards her hocks (never try to pull a baby straight outward – always downward towards the hocks). The baby was very very stuck.
At this point the vet called. He was done at the other farm, and headed our way. It would be at least an hour until he got to us. I updated him on the situation and he said to just keep working at it, that as the baby sat there things would hopefully continue to stretch out. He said if there was any way to get some leverage behind the head with a pull rope or something to try to get something around behind the head. There was no way my hand could fit to do that, everything was way too tight. So I just kept trying to stretch the opening out, and pull on the baby. The minutes ticked past. The baby continued to be stuck. Mama continued to push. I continued to pull. It felt so hopeless. But then the nose twitched. Two little twitches. It was alive! We all had renewed energy to get this baby out before it died. I was already afraid we were losing mama, and I wanted to have at least one of them survive this.
After about 30 minutes of working on it, the baby finally budged. Just a tiny little bit, but it was definitely moving outward. I pulled even harder and did the wiggling of the shoulders again, and yes – it was ever-so-slowly making progress. By now all the children were in the barn with us and I called for someone to grab towels and the bulb syringe and for Mtn Man to prepare to resuscitate the baby. It took awhile, and it move so so slowly, but once the head came free, the rest of the baby followed quickly.
The first thing that we noticed was that she was covered with meconium. Meconium is the first poop a baby has and if they are stressed during delivery they will poop it out while still inside mom. This can cause issues because it is very tar-like and if the baby inhales it with their first breaths it can cause major breathing problems. And there was tons of it. The baby was theoretically white, but we couldn’t really tell because everything from her neck back was completely coated in the meconium. But that was actually a good thing…in that her head didn’t have any on it – she didn’t poop until after her head was thoroughly stuck, so her head was clean, so her first breath was clean.
As Mtn Man worked on rubbing the baby and making sure she was breathing, I turned my attention back to Daisy. She had gone completely unresponsive. She was laying there, limp, with a terrible, labored, gasping, breathing pattern. Her eyes were open, but they were not blinking and were unresponsive. I picked up her head and talked to her, trying to get her to come to, but she wouldn’t. At this point all the stress and adrenaline of the last hour and half just overwhelmed me and the thought of losing Daisy was too much and I just broke down bawling while sitting by her head. Mtn Man called to me and I looked over at him. He had the lamb on his lap and she was breathing and her head was up and she let out a little baby bleat. She was alive and talking! We got Daisy into a sternal laying position to help with her breathing and put the baby right by her head. It was calling out and she immediately started coming to and reaching out for it. She very quickly revived her sense and was talking to the baby and licking it and it was talking back. We all started smiling and laughing as relief washed over us.
The lamb is the mini-me of her mother, a white ewe lamb with big, somewhat floppy, pink ears. She is the last lamb from our wool ram, Fergus, and is a very important sheep to our new dairy-sheep breeding plans.
But they weren’t out of the woods yet. Daisy continued to be very weak as the lamb started working on standing. After about 30 minutes we finally got Daisy up, but she was super wobbly and weak, and started to not really care much about the baby. We tried to get the lamb to nurse, while holding Daisy still, but the lamb was pretty weak too and wouldn’t suckle. Then the vet arrived. He cleaned up Daisy and checked to see if I had torn her and to be sure everything inside was OK. She was OK, and I had NOT torn her! He gave her some banamine for pain, oxytocin, and antibiotics. Then we tried to get the baby to nurse. She nursed a little, but not much. So we milked Daisy and he tube fed the baby. After the tube feeding the baby really started to perk up and with Daisy out of pain she seemed better too. Things were looking up! The next 24-72 hours would be the test of how everyone would recover.
But, Daisy still wasn’t really caring about her baby. She didn’t seem very interested in her. And she didn’t really want to let her nurse. The vet, who has raised sheep for 25+ years, seemed very concerned that she was not going to accept the lamb. We have never had a mom reject her lamb before, so this was new territory for us. We got them both into the jug together, set Daisy up with food and water, and took turns sitting out there watching them and forcing Daisy to let the baby nurse every hour or two. We settled in to see what the next few days would bring us.
We had gotten the female that we desperately wanted from this breeding. But would they both survive and recover the birth? Would Daisy reject the lamb? We didn’t know. But we were determined to do everything we could to achieve a good outcome for both of them.