We had a surprise waiting for us on Monday morning when we went out to the barn… the first lambs of the season! It was our lucky guests that day who first discovered that Piper had given birth to triplets:
And then, on Tuesday morning, Nona gave birth to twins.
Very exciting times in the barn!
Nona and Deedee started life just as their mother lost hers. I don’t know if it was Nona or Deedee that I first swung upside down, back and forth, to get the fluid out of her lungs and her breathing started. Which ever lamb it was, she hasn’t held it against me. Both lambs were rubbed down and in a cardboard box with straw, placed in front of the wood stove, before they were even 15 minutes old.
By the time the girls were a few days old, living in the house with the dog and the cat had become customary and normal. They were given access to all the rooms during the day as long as they had on their disposable diapers. We cut a hole for the tail and, being girls, the system worked sufficiently well. At other times, Deedee and Nona were relegated to their cardboard box for lamb control.
The dog was interested in the babies. The cat wasn’t so sure. Cisco would clean Nona’s and Deedee’s wool and lick them all over, especially when they dripped milk down their chins and around their mouths. Similar to the ministrations of a mother ewe, this encouraged them to drink more. It also helped to keep their faces from getting crusty with old formula. Shortly, the lambs learned to climb out of the box and were thus sent back to live a lamb’s true life at the barn.
Deedee and Nona were named for ancient Greek goddesses or furies or something. Annie might be a vet student but her semester of Greek archaeology had proven interesting to her and thus influential in her approach to naming these babies. She did, after all, deserve first rights for delivering them. She picked names that reflected the goddesses who oversaw childbirth and fertility.
It seemed fitting but I had the hardest time remembering the names to start. Usually I let lambs name themselves. If it had been up to me, the lambs would have called themselves Laverne (Deedee) and Shirley (Nona). It was that obvious in their personalities.
So, here we are now, with lambs a month old intermingled with all the other lambs on the farm. Instead of being afraid of us, they push to the front of the flock and dive through the barn door at feeding for a bottle of formula and a scratch on the head. This has all been to the extreme delight of guests and their children. Who can’t love the smell of a baby lamb; feel the soft wool; oooh and aaah as they tangle around your legs pushing up for a bottle of milk? Like all babies, they are picked up and carried around. They are posed for photos. They are treated like pet dogs.
On a warm day when the doors are left open, it comes as no surprise to find them walking into the house, especially when the sheep are grazing the orchard close by. Our split rail fencing works for sheep but not so well for lambs. It’s an easy squeeze for Deedee and Nona, and they sagely know how to find the front door.
Without diapers, the lambs are not as welcome in the house. The cat is still wary and will run sit on the stairs. The carpet may be old, but lambs peeing on it are not appreciated. I wave my arms and scold until Deedee and Nona bounce out nonchalantly. “Who’s she yelling at? Us???” The lambs graze the lawn. Sometimes they check out the guests and totter up the steps onto the deck. When it suits their purpose, Deedee and Nona will squeeze back into the orchard to play with their kindergarten class.
I suppose I should just be happy they haven’t figured out how to use the dog door, although I did see them watching Cisco pass through it the other day. Quite intently, I might add.
Photos: (top) guest with Deedee and Nona on the bridge; (bottom) guest feeding Deedee. Photos by C. Anderson (father).
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones
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