Saturday, 25 April 2015

You're going to have put your hand in!

Each year we learn something about lambing and put what we learn into practice by doing something different the next year.

In the first year we learned the signs of impending birth but never saw them coming, so in the second year we watched the ewes closely through binoculars.

In the second year we learned not to intervene too early but that it's easier to intervene in a smaller area, so in the third year we fenced the ewes into a small corner of the field.

In this third year we learned that when you really, really have to intervene, a small pen would have been better than a small corner of the field.

Other facts that Margo's tricky delivery taught me are:

  • A lamb can survive a surprising length of time with just its head protruding from its mother's back end, including surviving its mother sitting on her back end.
  • A pregnant ewe with a lamb's head protruding from her back end can still move fairly quickly given sufficient incentive.
  • It's hot, wet and slimy inside a ewe's uterus.
Yes, if putting my hand inside a ewe had been on my bucket list, I could now strike it off. Lube or no lube, slipping your whole hand in alongside a protruding head is not easy. I feared choking the poor gasping lamb. I felt Margo's pain. Gently pushing the head back in was not an option as the birth sac had burst and the lamb had taken its first (uncomfortable) breaths. The Shepherding Helpline (long suffering but very calm and very patient Simon who lives up the road) advised me to get my hand in, find the front legs (which should have come before the head), and ease them out one by one. Alas, I couldn't find the legs. Margo was giving birth to a legless lamb!

Frustrated by my failure, tearful for fear of losing lamb and ewe, the first emergency call was made. Simon arrived within minutes that felt like hours. After a quick examination the second emergency call was made, this time to the vet. Serious stuff. "No one can come out to you" was not the response I had hoped for. "Can you get her to us?". Really? Seriously? With both Dave and Simon being indisposed at Margo's side and inside respectively, this would require me single handedly hitching the trailer up to the truck, dis-assembling the electric fence, driving the truck and trailer to Margo whilst simultaneously preventing Myfanwy, Rhos and Lulu from crossing into the delivery corner and causing havoc. And then we would have to heave a prone, moaning Margo into the trailer, and bump her along the lanes for the 25 minute drive to the vet. The vet might as well have asked me to take Margo to the moon!

Returning to the bloody scene in the field, I shouted the bad news over the fence. "We've got a leg out", came the reply. Hallelujah! Once one leg was out, Simon could soon ease the other one out, and with one heave from Margo, out slipped the rest of the lamb. Despite the trauma, Margo immediately set to work licking her new born and, after cleaning the remaining gunk from the lamb's mouth, we all stepped back to let mother and lamb bond. A job well done. And then out slithered a much smaller gunky parcel. Lamb number two! A third set of twins for our flock!

All three of us stood back and marvelled as within 15 minutes both lambs were making their first wobbling attempts to stand and nudging around for the first suckle. What a feeble species we are to take so long to stand on our own two feet and feed ourselves.

Elated, exhausted, relieved. And that was just me, who hadn't given birth, hadn't held someone down who was giving birth, hadn't saved three lives and helped the birth happen! But there's always next year ....

Margo with three day old Simon (the head first lamb) and little sister Simone

Saturday, 11 April 2015


Animal numbers are going up and up. If I include the bees it's probably an exponential increase on a daily basis now that the sun is well and truly shining.

Rhos and Lulu, the terrible twosome who survived fly strike, are very much still with us and making their presence felt by bleating loudly and planting hooves in the small of my back to express their rage at the discontinuance of lamb finisher nuts. If I go missing, look for me in the feed bin. Rhos will be dancing a jig atop the lid. As of this month Rhos and Lulu cease to be lambs. Rhos becomes a yearling wether destined for market. Lulu becomes a yearling destined to become a breeding ewe to replace the defunct barren Myfanwy. Both have to pay their way. Unfortunately Rhos has only one means of currency. His life. Sounds harsh but I have to harden up. No sugar coating of this particular pill. Don't look into his eyes. Look away! We'd talked of keeping Rhos as a comedy ram, the joker in the flock, a court jester of the paddock, but alas our grazing is limited and with the surprise arrival of two sets of twins, our flock size needs truncating. Pascal and Cadi arrived first. Babette's first ever lambs emerged into the world two years to the day of her own birth. As her mum, Babs, and indeed all three of our ewes, had only ever had singles it never occurred to me that Babette might buck the trend and pop out a couple. As soon as I realised that Babette had four more legs than usual I realised she'd lambed overnight. I don't know what instinct prompted Dave to look in the shelter, but it's just as well he did as curled up in the corner was another lamb. Babette must have exited at the sound of breakfast too quickly for the lamb to keep up. I'd like to see you being so swift when you're less than one day old!

Cadi's sunny smile for mum Babette

It's pleasing to see Babette being an attentive mother, keeping Cadi and Pascal in the shelter when the second and third days of their lives turned out to be the wettest, most miserable of the year so far. Babette has always been a feisty madam with no fear of us or the dog, so there was no guarantee that she'd develop a softer more maternal side. I will always have a big fat soft spot for Babette, our first ever lamb born on a sunny Easter Sunday morning. I only hope that motherhood doesn't mean she'll stop rubbing noses with me.

The arrival of the second set of twins, born to Babs, was more dramatic. Again, both were born without intervention in the early hours of the morning as we slumbered unawares in our comfy bed. Bella came first. A big bouncy healthy, but strangely silent lamb. Second out was Bychan. Teeny tiny. The runt. A toy lamb. Dave found her bleating plaintively, ran to the house, roused me from my crumpled early morning duvet mound. I know the golden rule is never interfere too soon. But the bleating was too much. Bychan couldn't find mum, She walked in the wrong direction. She walked into the wall of the shelter. She stumbled on new legs. She was too small and weak to suckle. We knew Babs hadn't rejected Bychan, as sometimes happens with the second of twins, because she was responsive to Bychan's cries, But what's a mum to do? She can't tell Bychan what to do or put her on the teat herself. We were heading for four hours post-birth. Bychan had to have colostrum soon. Time for the bottle. Rush to the house, kettle on, open sachet, spill contents, try not to panic. Might as well tell a helium balloon not to rise. We coaxed her into taking a few sucks from the bottle, but she really wasn't interested. Should we let nature takes its course? Perhaps Bychan wasn't supposed to be. Half an hour break, cup of tea, contemplation and, as usual, a phone call to someone more experienced. The advice? Get her on the teat or be prepared to let her go. But it seems that Lady Luck is still looking down on us, for when we returned Bychan was quiet, she'd suckled, we saw her suckle again. Three days later and she's the cutest little scrap of a thing, taking the knocks from her bigger sibling and cousins, fighting for the teat. We take nothing for granted. There's a long road and plenty of unkind weather ahead. Life is a fragile thing but Bychan is grabbing hold of it with every one of her cloven hooves.
Bella and Bychan less than one day old