Monday, November 14, 2011

Counting Sheep, Part II

This story is just crying out for a subtitle. Something like: "How I found myself as a sheep midwife" or "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no lambies!" With the acquisition of an instant flock of sheep, and two of the ewes presumed pregnant, I was feeling a little panicked. Reading those chapters in the shepherd's "bible," also known as "Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep," made me feel weak-kneed, dizzy, and slightly nauseous. I'd never seen anything born before and never expected to.

I fretted on and off all winter, helpless in the absence of experience, and nervous because I didn't know when the ewes were "due" or even if they were actually pregnant! In mid February (2007), their udders started filling with milk and it was pretty obvious. Then, one sunny Sunday morning, I looked up from the Sunday newspaper and saw a big dark red/purple bag suspended from the back end of Lana, who was calmly munching on grass in the vinerows. I ran to get the binoculars, and a minute later there was a lamb on the ground, then another.

With Lana and the newborn twins.
John and I were giddy with delight and relieved that we didn't have to do a thing! Except name them... We had discussed the idea of eating a lamb some day when we had more new lambs than we needed for grazing the vineyard. But no sooner were these two lambs up on all fours and getting their first milk from mom when I announced, "That's Roy. That's Sylvia. And we're NOT eating them." We slowly carried the twins to the barn, with Lana following behind, calling out to her babies the whole time. After observing the three of them in the barn for 3 days, we inserted ear tags, docked their tails, and injected them with their first vaccine. Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I'd be cooing over my own lambs and piercing their ears and giving them shots?! I'm so squeamish I can't even look when I get injections or have blood drawn.

With three-day old Sylvia, clad in my "lamb suit," which fits over my clothes.
So that's the first birth event under my belt. What about Ms. Una? Two weeks later, on another nice Sunday morning, I saw her straining, a sure sign that she was in labor. A short while later, the birthing "bag" appeared and through binoculars, I thought I saw a head emerge. And then, for at least 20 minutes, nothing. Uh-oh. We went outside to check on her progress, our livestock guardian puppy Francesco in tow. The lamb's head, just barely sticking out of the ewe, was covered with the birth sac and Francesco started licking the lamb's face, which started the lamb's breathing. But he was obviously stuck. I was too upset to take photos at the time, but picture the classic creature encountered by Dr. Doolittle: the PushMePullYou. Una had a head attached to her neck and another sticking out of her rear. It's funnier now than it was then!

To make a long story short, I did don long plastic gloves and lubed up to see if I could figure out any way to get the lambs front legs out. (Yeah, who knew?) Fighting panic, but soon realizing I couldn't facilitate, John called the vet, who was an hour away. John and I stood there trying to keep the ewe standing quietly and the puppy waiting calmly. A vet in her mobile clinic finally arrived; she had to push the lamb back inside the ewe and then find all his legs and pull him back out. She had to swing the lamb around by his front legs (like a lasso) to get him breathing, and she was pretty sure we were going to lose the lamb and maybe the ewe too.

After the successful intervention in the birth of Todd

But the extra-large lamb was fine, mama Una was fine, and we named the lamb Todd the BigHead Monster. Francesco probably saved the lamb's life the first time, clearing his nose and mouth to breathe. To this day, Todd is our largest sheep, and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for him. He is the only one that lets me walk up to him and pet him, scratch his chin, and pull stickers and foxtails off his face.

Una and Todd, resting in the barn.

The lambing experience that Spring was what convinced me that "there oughta be someone" who could teach people about sheep and lambs and what to expect. As we used to say in the corporate world: Let no good idea go unpunished. But who knew that one of "the someones" would soon be me?!

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