Update – Will said I hadn’t fully captured the drama in my first pass at this post, so I’m filling in some of the details I left out.
After our lambing adventures on Friday and Saturday and a busy Sunday, we tucked into bed early. Around 11:30, Will noticed the dogs being particularly noisy. He opened the window and heard a sheep bleating in distress, so he woke me and we both hopped out of bed and headed to the field. As I’m still limping from my incident with the electric fence, he beat me to the woods and saw one of the sheep mid-labor, a lamb’s head and foot already through the birth canal but otherwise stuck. From the look of things, Will was convinced the lamb was already dead.
Here we go again. This time, we knew what to do. I chased the sheep out of the woods and into the corner while Will moved the electric fencing to tighten up the circle. In less than fifteen minutes, we’d accomplished what took us over an hour on Friday, and with much less stress to the sheep.
We attempted the old fencing as chute method again, but either the ewes were wise to that trick, or the smell of death was still too strong and they simply wouldn’t follow our lead. We made a couple of lunges at catching mama and then she came right by me. I jumped with both arms extended, fully committed to fall on my face if I missed, but I was able to grab onto her wool and slow her down enough so Will could hold her more securely from the front.
With Will holding her from the front (she was standing up) and me at her backside, I grabbed the back of the lamb’s head with my left hand and held tight to the foot with my right, pulling at an angle both down and towards me and the baby came out. It did not appear to be breathing. I grabbed the baby by the back legs and swung it in the air the way you’d shake out a heavy rug, the way I’d seen watching The River Cottage series from the BBC and that I’d read about as a method for reviving a distressed lamb. I placed the babe back on the ground and checked its mouth. It twitched a bit but wasn’t breathing well so I repeated the maneuver. Back on the ground, the babe opened its eyes and mouth. It was alive. Barely.
Will kept asking if he should give it mouth to mouth, but I didn’t think that was necessary. Instead, he sort of squeezed/pushed at his chest, not so much CPR-style as to help everything start flowing. I ran into the house and grabbed a handful of kitchen towels. I wiped off the lamb’s nose and mouth while Will toweled it down, both to warm it up and simulate how, had it been born in a not so traumatic manner, the mother would be licking him clean. The rub down seemed to liven it up, so I put a squirt of sheep drench on my finger and got it to lick at my hand. We also realized our it was actually a he, and now he was alive for sure. It was now our job to keep him that way.
From the moment I grabbed the ewe to the realization that we’d resuscitated the lamb, maybe five minutes elapsed. If even. I am absolutely blown away that we pulled it off while simultaneously proud as hell that we did. Nike was onto something.
Despite high-fiving one another, our little lamb was still struggling. He couldn’t stand up and he swung his head around with minimal control. We continued to towel him down and try to wipe him dry. We gave him some colostrum paste. Will held him against his body to try and warm him up. He still couldn’t stand, but at least now he was trying, and he began bleating for mama.
We decided to let her give it a go and hopped back over the fence. She went up to her babe and began licking him down and nudging him, but he still wouldn’t stand. We broke out the books and learned that the most important thing was to get him warm. The two vital signs for a newly born lamb are mouth temperature and that they stretch when they stand. If the mouth is cold (put your finger in your mouth, that’s how warm their mouth should be), the lamb is cold. If they don’t stretch their backs when they stand, they aren’t getting enough milk.
Since our little guy couldn’t stand, we hopped back over and checked him out. His mouth was warm but he was visibly shivering, so Will went back to holding him, wrapped in a towel, feeding him colostrum paste. This seemed to do a lot of good and he started bleating like mad for his mother, so back over the fence we went. As she licked and nudged him and he kept trying to stand, Will moved the electric fencing back.
We wanted to try and get mama and baby in the run-in shed, lambing jug style. Our shepherd told me that you can coax the mama into the jug by holding the babe in front of her, near her nose, and slowly walking backwards as she follows. At this point it’s 1 AM, so pitch black out. The lead a mama to shelter tactic didn’t work and instead she spooked and headed back to the flock. We moved the babe to the shed to see if she’d follow his bleating, but he was too tired to bleat so she wandered the field, frantically looking for her child. She even tried to lick down the other lamb, and that mama expressed her disapproval by head butting her away.
It didn’t look like the lambing jug was going to happen, so we brought the babe back to spot where we’d been feeding him and mama came to him right away. He still couldn’t stand and felt very cold, so I made up a bottle of warm water mixed with powdered colostrum and Will bottle fed him. This warmed him up enough that he tried standing and by 2 AM he was attempting to walk, albeit drunkenly. Will sent me to bed and stayed up with the lamb, feeding him every half hour until 4 AM when he finally started suckling on his mama.
It was another long evening, and we were still worried about our baby ram, but it felt so amazing to have revived the little guy.
He’s not out of the proverbial woods yet. He can stand up, but he’s still very wobbly. He sleeps a lot and he and mama don’t have the nursing thing down, but he is trying and she’s still keeping an eye on him so I know they’ve bonded. We gave him a bottle right as it got dark this evening, to help fortify him through the evening. I’m about to check on him now and keep my fingers crossed that all is still well. I’m also hoping we get the night off and the remaining ewe doesn’t go into labor the moment I fall asleep.
All day today I felt like a rock star. I’d survived one hell of an introduction to lambing, and when anyone asked me about my limp I didn’t mention Saturday’s textbook perfect lambing or the chaos of Friday, I skipped right over the cause of my injury and declared that I’d saved a lamb. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that level of pride from my real job.