We had more excitement here yesterday than we needed. Mid-morning I looked out the window and could see that one of my Dorper ewes – a first freshener – was in early labor. Signs to look for? She had lost interest in grazing, eating hay out of the hay walls or even staying with the flock. Instead she was off by herself, head hung low to the ground. I ran out and moved her into one of the lambing jugs and then went back into the house to take a shower. Sheep seem to be a little shy about giving birth with an audience and more than once I’ve left for “just a little while” only to miss it altogether. Yesterday I figured the best way to ensure the lamb was born, was to leave for awhile. However by the time I returned, nothing much had changed. I decided to wait her out since I really did want to be present at a birth, and my Dorper ewes, being the calmest and friendliest, seemed the best candidates to allow it.
So I pulled up my lawn chair, grabbed my Kindle and with a thermos of hot tea, I was all set to wait and watch. After some time had passed, during which she moved around a good deal, pawed, lay down, got up, walked some more, pawed, lay down….over and over….I looked up to notice there was a bag of fluid hanging out.
I expected things to move pretty fast at this point, but over the next hour or so, not much changed. Eventually I saw a tiny pair of hooves emerge and based on their orientation I decided there was nothing to worry about – they were facing the right way for the lamb to be presenting front legs first. However an hour and a half later she hadn’t progressed at all. She was pushing hard and on each push the hooves would emerge but would then recede back inside in between contractions.
It is hard to know at what point to intervene but with this being the first time for this ewe, and with her being a smaller ewe bred back to a large ram – and knowing that my other ewes have delivered in far less time – I decided to glove up and see what was going on. On the next push, I grabbed the little hooves and tried to pull when she pushed. The lamb was vigorously objecting to me pulling so I was glad to know it was still doing okay, but after many tries, we had made no more progress than before.
The ewe was starting to get distressed, bellowing with each contraction, and getting up and changing positions every couple of minutes, clearly frustrated that her hard work was not producing results. I was also getting quite anxious. I didn’t want to lose the lamb but more importantly, I didn’t want to lose this ewe. I donned a fresh pair of gloves, lubricated with some KY Jelly, and this time inserted most of my hand, trying to feel for the problem. I could feel the lamb’s head – and even stick my fingers in its mouth – so I knew the presentation was correct. The problem must be that the shoulders are stuck.
Honestly at this point I’d love to say I knew what the solution was, but in reality I just got lucky – and learned something for the future. When the shoulders are stuck, pulling on both legs at once doesn’t help as it doesn’t change the position of the lamb. Where I got lucky was that on the next contraction I grabbed just one foot and pulled – quite hard – and suddenly the leg slipped loose and emerged almost the entire way. I now realize that by rotating one leg all the way forward, it “slimmed out” the shoulders so that they could pass through the area in which they were stuck. Having delivered one leg, on the next contraction I was able to ease the head out, and from there the rest of the lamb slid out easily.
The ewe immediately started licking off the lamb – a little ewe lamb.
And within a short time the lamb was on her feet and figuring out the nursing thing. Two hours later, when I took the ewe some grain, the lamb was dry and getting the hang of her long, gangly legs.
This was the first ewe who needed assistance and I’m so glad I was there. I’m also glad I put together a “birthing kit” a few weeks ago “just in case”. Not knowing for sure what I’d need, I put in some old towels, disposable gloves, KY Jelly, a nasal aspirator and some antibiotic ointment. Under duress I was thankful I’d done that as I was able to run up to the house, grab the kit and be back to help her in no time, once I realized she was struggling.