Here is the story of Clarissa’s last week of pregnancy. Clarissa is 7 years old, quite chubby, has bad feet (hooves that just don’t look right and occasional lameness), and has beautiful shiny white wool that we really like.
Tuesday Feb 21: I notice a pink protrusion that doesn’t resemble a birth sac when Clarissa stands up. Oh no, I have seen this before–the start of a prolapse. Not surprising, as Clarissa is enormously wide with lambs. Just a month ago when we trimmed wool and checked udders for signs of pregnancy, she had no udder to speak of and I wondered if she was pregnant. Now there is little doubt. I call the vet and Dr. Steve discusses options for home treatment. Get her off the hill, reduce her feed (to free up abdominal space), and push the protrusion back in if it doesn’t go itself. I push the darn thing in hourly all day (always bathing it with an antiseptic solution and wearing a glove) until 4 pm, when it magically seems to stay put all the way till the next morning.
Wednesday – Monday: Same thing. We put her in a lambing pen and gave her the south end of the corral as her own space. We confined Willow with her for a few days so she would not be lonely. Gave her small amounts of alfalfa and grain a few times a day. Sometimes the prolapse stays in for several hours, sometimes it is out every time we check. Allowed her on pasture one day and the next morning she was in agony with the largest protrusion yet.
Monday Feb 27: I call the Vet again and arrange for a farm visit on Wednesday. The plan is for Dr. Megan to help us determine whether to induce the birth with medications or to manually remove the lambs or to keep waiting. Monday night, Clarissa seems to be in heavy labor at the bedtime check. So I get all the birth-assisting supplies and climb in to the pen only to find the prolapse. I don one of those shoulder-length vet gloves and use my whole forearm to replace the tissues. This is not fun for either of us, but I don’t feel it is right to leave her with her innards on the outside.
Tuesday Feb 28: Having introduced I don’t know how many germs into her body, I call the vet again. I ask if we can move the visit to today, but the schedule is too tight. I ask for advice. Dr. Steve and Dr. Megan confer, and Dr. Megan calls me back. She says that the best option is to hang on until the visit tomorrow, to continue what we are doing and hope that the birth happens soon. I watch Clarissa closely all morning, noting her activities. She is somewhat perky–for her. She waddles out to the pasture and stands next to the fence to commune with the rest of the flock. She stops every 20 feet or so, experiences a contraction of some sort, then keeps going. She rubs her head on the fences, takes big drinks at the water trough, and mostly stays on her feet. When she lies down, she immediately has big contractions–but when I check her, there is nothing protruding. About 1:30 I begin to realize that this is labor. She is licking her lips, sniffing the ground where she last laid down and some fluids escaped, and when she lies down there are big pushing contractions. I get my gloves on and look. No prolapse. I decide to gently push my fingers into the opening to see what I feel. I feel a big NOSE, right there, just inside the opening! Oh my gosh! Where are the feet–lambs are supposed to emerge in diving position, nose resting on front legs. I feel around the nose and discover one foot, two feet. Clarissa is panting and pushing. I grab the feet and the lamb pulls one of them back. I lose my grip and Clarissa TAKES OFF, out of the pen. Of course I should have tied the gates closed before I started this, but I just wasn’t expecting to find a lamb right there at the door, so to speak. I race behind Clarissa, holding on to the feet, and ultimately the legs extend outward. Back in the pen, I am trying to gently pull downward, but everything seems so STUCK, and I am thinking this lamb will DIE if I don’t get it out of here soon because for sure the cord will be crimped. Clarissa is straining, I am holding on to those legs and trying to ease the vagina open around the nose, and head. At last, the forehead pops through. In seconds, the lamb is lying in the straw. I wipe fluids from the lamb’s nose and drag the HUGE lamb up near his mother so she can smell and lick him. She knows exactly what to do, and industriously licks him for the next half hour.
When I get the chance, I weigh him: 13 1/2 pounds, a gigantic lamb! I dip his navel in iodine to prevent infection. Finally, I show him where his mama’s teat is, even while she is lying down. He clamps on immediately. Here is a video of this lamb’s very first feeding. Turn your volume on–you will not believe how vigorous he is.
This little boy is so big I can’t imagine she would have another. The spent umbilical cord is hanging out of her, indicating that the placenta will be birthed next. So I take a break–clean up, replace all the lambing supplies where they belong, make myself a cup of coffee. John arrives home just as I am returning to check on the mom and baby. It’s 3:30. I tell him all about the birth, and as we stand there watching, Clarissa lies down and begins straining. At first I think it is the afterbirth she is trying to deliver. But the straining goes on, BIG contractions. A “water balloon” emerges, indicating that another lamb is on the way. Clarissa strains mightily, then gets up for a few minutes. Repeats this several times. I can see a nose, then part of a forehead, inside the water balloon. Again, where are the feet? It seems these lambs are so big that their feet can’t come through along with their noses. I put on a glove and climb in to the pen to see if I can help. Sure enough, the feet are tucked in under the lamb’s chin. A couple of quick tugs on slippery legs, and the whole head comes through. The rest of the body slides gently out. This lamb is covered with the mysterious yellow dye that one twin often displays. It is a girl, and weighs the same as her brother, 13 1/2 pounds. Clarissa is exhausted. She licks for a few seconds, then seems to doze off. I give her another ounce of propylene glycol, just small amounts at a time so she doesn’t cough or choke. She perks up. Within minutes the little yellow ewe is scrambling to her feet and demanding something to eat. In this picture you can see the pink umbilical cord. The lamb seems to have landed in some alfalfa, which is decorating her right side. She is not yet 5 minutes old.
In the evening when I check on them, all three are on their feet. Mama turns to one lamb and sniffs, then starts to lick. A few seconds later she sees the other lamb, and starts to lick that one. This is repeated over and over, and is the reason we pen mothers up with their lambs for a couple of days. I help the little girl find the teat and she latches on fiercely!
At bedtime check, Clarissa is resting comfortably with both lambs curled up against her. The second afterbirth (yes, there were two!) has been delivered, removed and buried.
What a day. I am so relieved for Clarissa. And for us. So thankful for healthy lambs and good mothers.
Wednesday, March 1: Dr. Megan came at 2 pm, expecting to deal with a prolapsing pregnant ewe. I had called the vet’s office to let her know that the lambs had arrived and to ask that the appointment be kept so that she could check Clarissa for any after-effects. It was delightful to show her these beautiful lambs. She examined Clarissa carefully and concluded that all is well, no evidence of infection or illness.
Friday, March 3: Clarissa and her lambs were released from their pen this morning. They went to the front pasture for an hour, then returned to the barn for a rest. When I went to check on them, I found the boy sprawled flat on the ground, sound asleep from the exertion of his trip to the pasture, and the little girl perched comfortably on top of her mother. Clarissa clearly feels so much better with her lambs out!