We have been waiting and waiting and waiting for our big ewe to birth. Checking her udder every day and saying ‘surely it can’t be much longer’. Every day as Boo and I drive past I have said ‘What is she waiting for?’ and 2 year old Ben has replied ‘Christmas’. I hope not . . .
This morning when I went for my run at about 6 she was standing on her own obviously labouring. I went back to the house and googled sheep birthing schedules and positions. After my experience with Daisy I determined not to get in there too early so I decided to go for my run and check on her when I got back.
She was still straining when I got back so I consulted google again. I should have got in there a lot earlier (hindsight is such a wonderful thing!) Ged went up to the office (she had returned to her favourite spot under the office) and said there was a nose poking out so we grabbed the camera and Pickle and walked up to the office all excited, expecting to see a lamb or two at last.
But when we got there it was still just a nose and it was definitely time to go in. So we hung up the camera and I put my hand in. Bush midwifery – no antiseptic, scrubbing or gloves! The head was stuck and the lamb was definitely dead but I couldn’t get any purchase and couldn’t get my other hand in. Ged took over and I do not know how he got both of his big hands in there. After some manoeuvring he pulled out one huge dead lamb. My poor child witnesses too much death on the farm. One can only hope that what he learns is that death is a constant part of the incredible cycle of life. Natural, inevitable, not to be afraid of . . .
I sent Ged back to the house for the Emergency Essence, Bug Buster, Penicillin, hot water etc. The lamb smelled pretty bad and had obviously been dead for a while. She knew she was birthing death. When he got back Ged wanted to go back in in case there was another lamb. I said ‘surely she would still be straining’ and was convinced that the size of the first lamb precluded another. But when I felt along the flank I agreed that there was probably another and this time he soaped up before beginning his grim task. The squeamish should turn away now . . . I am sorry to say that the lamb came apart in the process (long dead). We shielded Ben from the gruesomeness. He kept saying ‘I don’t want a dead lamb’ . . . neither did we.
The worry now was the poor ewe. The uterus was obviously infected and she was exhausted. I administered Emergency Essence orally and over her head, Bug Buster orally and a penicillin injection. We cleaned up the vagina but it didn’t look good. She was so weak and tired. I gave her water too and we got her some food. She had a huge drink but she wasn’t interested in food. Ged didn’t think she would make it and certainly it looked very unlikely.
We walked home and I left a message for the vet to call us and rang the sheep breeder for any tips or advice. He had nothing to offer us but luckily the vet was more helpful. He told us to go to the Dairy and borrow syntocin to encourage uterine contractions to expel any retained placenta or other debris. And also to borrow Ketol for energy and prevent pregnancy toxaemia. And keep up the massive doses of penicillin.
We did as we were told and she made a truly miraculous recovery although she was pretty depressed for the first week. We knew how good she was feeling by how difficult she was to catch! Ged’s rugby tackles improved significantly in a week but he sustained some decent bruises in the process! She’s a big girl!
We were all pretty depressed that our first foray into sheep breeding had delivered such sorrow although we have to be grateful for opportunities to improve our livestock knowledge and midwifery skills . . .
Two weeks later we awoke one morning to two live lambs huddled by their proud Mama. They are now frolicking in the fields as one would expect for a lush spring at Avalon.
As Sticky taught me long ago and as farmers have been saying since time began ‘Where you’ve got livestock, you’ll have dead stock.’ Such is the nature of life. Witnessing the bright brilliance of birth and the sweet sorrowful surrender into death is the privilege and humility of the farmer’s life.