Well, it’s been a bit brutal. I always wondered why other farmers don’t post “during” lambing time and now I understand – it is a busy, non-stop, somewhat sleep-deprived time…or, I should say, it can be that way. I guess this was our year…
Last year was easy. We had two pregnant ewes and for both we showed up shortly after each had given birth. The lambs were already cleaned off and nursing. I also had been able to peg the due date, to the day, for both. I had a little too much time on my hands during the 2015 breeding season and believe in my moments of gazing out at them grazing, I was actually able to see when the ram tupped them. Creepy and voyeuristic but it sure helped in terms of being prepared for the lambs when they came!
For breeding season 2016, I suppose with a toddler running around and being six weeks out from my own due date, I wasn’t as observant because we only saw one of three getting tupped. Naive new farmers that we were, we had assumed it would go as it did the previous season. The ram gets reintroduced to the ewes which initiates their cycle. The first cycle is a “silent” heat during which the ram presumably can’t tell they are in heat so doesn’t bug them. Seventeen days later they have their 2nd cycle and 17 days after that, their third. Most ewes will get pregnant during one of those two. Not our girls! We had our oldest ewe, Grandma (11 yo) get settled during the silent heat so it was a complete surprise when she lambed on February 25th.
We should just be grateful we knew all were pregnant. Here are the three of them just prior to Grandma giving birth. Yes, Grandma is the old and emaciated one in the front. It seems nothing we do puts weight on her so, sadly, this will be her last year with us.
And here’s Grandma with her little boy (and placenta). He’s still a little wet but he started nursing right away.
The next two, Chubb and Pretty, were settled during the second cycle and gave birth within about 24 hours of each other. This is them the day of / day before their births.
Here’s Chubb on 10 March with her twins, a ram lamb and a ewe lamb. (Yay, our first ewe lamb!)
I actually got to watch the whole process. I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled but it was the first time we actually caught them in the act so we wanted to observe.
Then the not-so-fun part began. While it appears Chubb’s lambs got right to nursing, they had a lot of difficulty “connecting” so we ended up having tube them for two days. It was our first experience with tubing and, while intimidating at first, it was pretty easy to figure out. It is time consuming though and included a middle of the night feeding.
On Saturday, during one of the feedings, we noticed Pretty starting to paw at the ground and the water sac breaking. Then, we saw two hooves. She had her first with minimal work (another ewe). Then, we made a rookie mistake. We didn’t know if there was another one in there and thought the next thing coming out was part of the placenta, which could take hours to be expelled. In fact though, it turns out it was another water sac. She should have delivered the second 30-45 minutes after the first. Unfortunately, we waited WAY too long to assist and by the time we saw hooves and realized it wasn’t the placenta, seven hours had passed. Only one hoof was poking out and it was clear it was breach. My husband put the gloves and lubrication on and went in. This was another first for us. I held Pretty while he tried to find the other hoof – and then he had to pull. When watching how the naturally born ones just slip out, you would be really surprised at how much strength it takes to pull a lamb out. When we did get her out, she was dead. It was really heartbreaking for me, mostly because we should have realized she had two in there and we should have known that if it didn’t come out within an hour, we should have intervened. We want to be as hands off with our sheep as possible, letting nature take its course, but this was a case where intervention likely would have saved the lamb.
Pretty’s ewe lamb seemed to be having similar latching on issues as Chubb’s so after giving her several hours, we began tube feeding.
Add to all of this, it was the coldest two days of the year with wind chills into the single digits. It was miserable for us and wasn’t helpful for them. All three newborns experienced various symptoms (high temperatures, scours, hunched up, mild dehydration, wheezing). In response, we’ve been monitoring temperatures, milking, tube feeding, giving penicillin/nutri drench), and even brought one of them indoors for a few hours to warm up.
I gave up yesterday and called the vet (on a Sunday) and took Chubb’s two lambs in Monday morning. The ram lamb may have pneumonia and is on an antibiotic and the ewe lamb has a good case of scours…which the other two now have. I’m hoping with the medication, they will all be on the mend.
On a bright note, Monday was a beautiful day – very sunny and in the 30s – so I let all of them out of the lambing jugs to get some sun. Tuesday is a blizzard with about 12″ of snow expected so it will be some time before they can get out and stretch their legs.
Here are some pictures of everyone enjoying the sun!
We are keeping our fingers crossed the scours and pneumonia clear up – and the weather warms up!