Only two ewes left to have their lambs, we are almost there. They must have been late bloomers, or else fast runners, because it has been two weeks since the big rush of eight births happened. The marathon is not yet ended, and Marilyn will attempt to tell you why. It is somewhat graphic so don’t read if you are squeamish.
On Saturday morning I wander lazily out to the barn about 9:00 to find John standing in the stall with Melody. She seems to be in labor, he says. But upon inspection, it is not a lamb coming out. It is Melody’s own innards, a vaginal prolapse. I get gloves and John holds her, and I try to push the mass back in. This is painful, and causes Melody to strain even more, then suddenly about a quart of urine sprays all over my legs and arm. That must have been a relief for her! To the phone, the vet can’t come so sorry, could we possibly bring her to the clinic? We don’t even consider that option. An hour later the vet’s office calls. A cancellation, he can come after all.
Steve rolls up, pronounces the diagnosis, gives an injection, tells us about a “retainer” device we can come get at the clinic. You insert it. then tie the ends with twine to some of the ewe’s wool to hold it in place. A ridiculous device, an impossible task. We try. And try. And try. Every time we check her, the prolapse is protruding and we have to start again. Try to imagine tying baling twine [twisted bundles of plastic threads] to beautiful, shiny, oh so clingy locks of wool. Every time you move the sticky twine it catches more wool. The wool is attached to its owner and wants to be attached to all the other wool around it. Meanwhile someone needs to hold Melody very firmly because she is going to leave immediately given half a chance. Did I mention the dim lighting in the barn, perfect for domestic harmony and imperfect for veterinary activity of any kind? Did I mention I have never in my life been peed on so much?
Finally we read the trusty old Paula Simmons book, Raising Sheep the Modern Way. Paula points out that this whole process is much easier if you flip the ewe over on her back and then elevate her hind end on a bale of hay to allow the insides to settle back where they belong. We try to imagine this before we approach the barn, but we can’t. Many trips back and forth as we identify all the things we need: twine, more twine, scissors, buckets of warm soapy water, lubricant, a bundle of straw, our glasses, dammit. There is only one way to get a sheep to lie down on its back. Nothing elegant or refined, you grab her head, turn it toward her shoulder, and before she can plan her resistance, you knock her over. But don’t forget to hang on because she will squirm and kick. John is quite good at that, having had a lot of practice.
Miraculously, once we have her on her back with her butt up on a bundle of straw and all 4 legs tightly restrained, she gets very quiet, relaxes even closes her eyes. It relieves the pain. We repeat this procedure numerous times over the weekend. But each time we check her, the prolapse has reappeared despite the “retainer”. By Monday morning we have cleverly discovered that we can leave the twine tied to the wool, and untie the end that is tied to the plastic. We can stick an exam glove under the knot-tying zone to keep the wool out of the knot. We are getting better at something we never wanted to learn how to do.
In the midst of all this, on Saturday, Clarissa finally settles down to push her lamb out. There is a scary moment when I can see hooves and a nose with a black tongue sticking out and I feel a sense of urgency. But with just a little help freeing the head, she gives birth to a healthy ewe lamb, about 11 pounds and hollering for something to eat from the very beginning. After a brief rest, Clarissa got busy licking her lamb while she prepared to have the second one.
But the second one is not forthcoming. To keep from hovering helplessly over a busy mother and lamb, we go inside for dinner. Check on her after an hour or more and the balloon I had seen earlier seemed to have popped. Uh oh. If the water breaks, it is a good idea to have the lamb soon. With a couple of pushes, I can see feet and I begin to work to free the head and quickly pull the lamb. But he is limp. There is no life in him. Even bigger than his sister. As with Roberta’s second lamb, there is no resuscitating him. I cry a little bit before going back to Melody.
As of Monday morning, we have spent our entire weekend (with the exception of attending a memorial service for our friend Erik and a St. Patrick’s Day dance performance that included our daughter Tracy) dealing with these sheep, and we have one lamb and one very miserable pregnant ewe to show for it. After I leave for work John calls the vet. He injects Melody with drugs to induce labor. If she hasn’t had them by tomorrow at noon, go in there and get them out, he says as he drives off. His visits remind me of Santa and the sleigh, they are so quick.
It’s 10:30 pm; Melody is lying down, feeling a contraction every five minutes or so, not really enough to bring a lamb out. She is breathing fast, doesn’t want to eat, doesn’t want to get up. Do we wait? Do we help? Do we go to bed? Do I go sit in the straw next to her all night long, feeling every contraction with her? It will be over tomorrow, one way or another.