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

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