For most of us who raise lambs for market and not for show, vets are not part of our landscape, even when things go wrong. An average ewe sells for about $50. A vet visit to the farm starts at $125. It’s hard math at the end of the day, but sometimes it’s a hard decision. This past weekend was just hard.
We like to cull our ewes (sell them) when they birth small lambs, but culling older ewes is hard when every year they keep producing healthy, strong twins and triplets. There are also ewes that I just like. Because they are friendly. Because they don’t knock me over. Because they are good mothers and have a kind eye.
There is a reason to cull your older stock and this sounds cruel, but maybe we were cruel in our own naive way. This year we experienced something you hear about with pregnant women: pregnancy toxemia. It’s when the body just can’t keep up with the nutrients required by the fetus. In this case, one of our favorite ewes went down with large lambs, and twins at that.
We noticed her down in the paddock and unable or unwilling to get up. At first I thought she must be delivering her lambs but after several hours and still no sign, it appeared there was something horribly wrong.
Shepherd Annie started to get out the books and then, as all 20-somethings do, started to look online for a cause. She came up with a myriad of diagnoses, but the one that really seemed to stick was the toxemia. She returned from work that evening with bottles of this and drips of that and we went to work trying to keep the ewe comfortable out in the pasture, the sky threatening rain.
We dosed her and watched her. I put up a tent over her. Several days later she started to eat. Yeah! We got her to her feet and walked her up the hill and into the barn on unsteady legs and with lots of coaxing, but at least there was clean straw and the safety of an enclosed stall.
Except as this was unfolding, we noticed another ewe down. The symptoms seemed similar, but the dosing made no difference. We carried her into the barn, except we only got her just inside the door. We were losing her.
I ran back to the house for the phone to call our neighbor, Dr. Liz, who was currently on the other side of the country. Our bad luck. When I reached her, I asked,
“Do you think Annie can do a c-section?”
“Sure she can. She’s up to it.”
I put Annie on the phone for instructions. When Liz was finished telling her what to look for and how to proceed, we returned to the barn. Annie had found her scalpels which she kept on hand for necropsies.
I actually thought we were too late, but miracle of miracles, Annie delivered two healthy ewe lambs: one for me to swing in the air until her lungs were cleared and the other that Annie did the same for. We rubbed them down with towels and quickly put them both under a heat lamp.
Our vet-in-training (aka shepherdess) was getting more experience than most before actually going to vet school. We couldn’t have saved the babies without her. Of course, the sad part was that our vet-in-training didn’t know how to sew the mom back up, although we doubt she would have survived anyway. Instead, we had to euthanize her. Two lives in exchange for the mother’s. Damn.
Did I mention we had neighbors over for Happy Hour that night? We returned back to the house with two bundles that we placed in a cardboard box near the wood stove. It was oooing and aaaahing time and then the babies fell asleep. We settled in for a glass of wine as the adrenaline kicked back and the reality of what had happened filled the evening conversation.
Photos: lambs in a cardboard box near the wood stove
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones