|This is what success looks like|
As I stretched my hand from under the warm covers to switch off the incessantly annoying alarm, I didn’t even bother to open my eyes.
I know…I know…it’s 2:15am and time to get up.
2:15? A.M.? WHY?
WHY get up at such an ungodly hour, heading into the cold and darkness when I could be snug and comfy in our warm bed? Because, I need to check the sheep.
Why? I’m a shepherd. And, it’s lambing season.
It’s not because I love the early morning (I do, but anything before 5 is a little excessive) not because I really love sheep (I do like them, but…) and not because I’m just a little crazy (…well, that one might just have some credence). But, this is the life of a shepherd.
Lest you think I’m just some wacky shepherd who gets a thrill out of nocturnal trips to the barn…let me assure you, I really don’t like the cold, I’m sort of afraid of the dark and the barn is both of those in the middle of the night. …and I forgot to mention the rats…(!) But, someone has to check and I voluntarily signed on for this whole shepherding deal…so out in the cold and darkness I go.
We can’t take chances with any newborn lambs getting chilled immediately after birth as hypothermia (and subsequent death) is a real possibility with below freezing temperatures. A sheep’s body temperature is normally 102*, so coming into a world that is so much colder would be a real shock. …and did I mention that lambs are wet, really wet when they are born? Do you see how that could be a problem?
I gave thanks that it wasn’t as cold as last week as I hunted for my glasses, my coveralls and coat. Sliding my feet into my chore boots and grabbing the flashlight, I was on my way to the barn within minutes of struggling out of bed.
The cold night air of January is exhilarating. On clear nights, the stars and the moonlight are spectacular. If it weren’t for the occasional coyotes in the distance, I would truly enjoy it. The dogs have grown bored with my nocturnal wanderings and don’t even bother to get up as I make my late night rounds. But, they, too hear the coyotes and occasionally grumble after sounds in the darkness.
Inside the barn, the ewes all look comfortable and sleepy. Some are ruminating, some are snoring softly and a few are still nibbling at the hay in the feeders. The lambs that have already been born are tucked in next to their mothers. The ewe I’ve been watching for a few days is in her own pen, resting comfortably. It’s a peaceful scene and after I check the animals, I head back to the house.
The cat and I settled into the recliner and went back to sleep for a while. By five, the cat was ready to start her outside hunting and woke me with her insistent mewing. While the coffee was brewing, I checked out the news and answered a few emails. The Boss was up shortly thereafter and we discussed the plans for the day.
I headed out again at six. Thankfully, this checking the barn every four hours only lasts throughout lambing season…and lambing season only lasts for about three weeks. The weak rays of winter daylight were just slightly evident on this trip. Again, all the barn inhabitants looked healthy and comfortable. The ewe in the pen was chewing her cud contentedly.
We both headed out at seven to feed all the animals. The Boss was servicing the henhouse as I walked into the barn. Something seemed strange. The mama sheep talk to their newborns…and “someone” was definitely talking. But, I’d just been there an hour before…
The ewe in the pen was standing up and making odd motherly noises. She turned around ---warning…potential TMI here---there was a head sticking out.(yes, from her behind) A very large head. Oh, and one foot. Oh…I admit…I said (very loudly) the word the Boss doesn’t like me to use. And, then…I said it again. And a few more. Once inside the pen with the ewe, I did a check. Ordinarily, birth is a simple miracle. Sometimes, it’s an all-out emergency. This was going to be one of those times. The check revealed I needed assistance---read muscle---immediately. I yelled for the Boss as I ran to get my vet box.
My duties as ovine obstetrician mean I get the fun job of “fixing” things when the lambs are coming out wrong. This one was going to be tricky. If the head was any indication, the lamb was huge. Thankfully, it was alive---but, it couldn’t get out on its own because one leg was turned all the way underneath. In a proper presentation, the lamb sort of dives out…little front feet first, then the head and rest of the body. I pushed and prodded and moaned. It’s hard work in a tight and awkward place and it was hurting my hand. The ewe pushed and moaned…because I had my hand/arm in the tight and awkward place. I think I heard the Boss praying.
Finally, the lamb was correctly positioned. Whoosh…and a ewe lamb was born. Dang! That is one big lamb! Nearly 15 pounds. What a big girl.
The rule is, if you have to assist a birth, you better see if there are twins. Lo and behold, despite the huge first lamb…here’s another. Whoosh…oh, my goodness…I think this one is dead. Aww ….Clear its mouth, massage it, oh…too bad…no, wait…He’s alive! Tiny, really tiny, but alive. Mama sheep started cleaning and talking and everything was cool. I didn’t think to look for any more inside.
Excitement over, we finished chores and headed to the house for breakfast.
|feeding a lamb|
I couldn’t get the tiny lamb out of my mind. He was less than half the size of his sister and seemed very weak and cold. I went back to the barn. Mama sheep was acting oddly. Almost like she was going to have another lamb. Nah…couldn’t be…triplets are unusual and that first lamb was huge. The little lamb was still trying to get to his feet.
I walked out of the barn to dump a bucket and when I returned…guess what I found. Another lamb! Yes, triplets! This one was quite large, too. (Later I weighed him and found he was 10 pounds) This was wild! Mama seemed in charge of the situation. While the tiny lamb still seemed cold and shaky, I had made sure he was nourished and clean, so I headed to town for feed. The Boss had work to do here, so he would keep an eye on things.
RING…RING…I had just gotten to the feed store when the Boss called to say that yet another sheep was in labor…maybe I should head back? He was pretty sure everything was under control…but…
By the time I got back, another set of twin lambs was on the ground. The Boss had helped the ewe clean them up and they were looking for a meal. We did all the newborn stuff and put them all in a warm pen. By now it was time for lunch.
|the view from the hayloft|
new families in jug pens
The first ewe was taking good care of two of the triplets. The tiny one didn’t look so good and despite her continued attention, he was too weak and cold to stand and nurse. But, he was looking rather alert, even though he was very cold and shivery. What to do? Oh, you know I don’t want a bottle baby…but, we can’t let him die…
Oh, let’s take him to the house…
I fed him some more, we stuck him in a box in the house and we went back to the barn to build jug pens for the other new lambs that will be arriving soon. When the little pens were finished, I backed the truck to the barn and we unloaded the feed.
So, now there’s a lamb in a box in my living room. Oh, a lamb in a box with a heating pad. A lamb in a box with a heating pad that has begun to baa at me.
This saga will no doubt continue. I don’t know if the lamb in the box will survive, but he’s in the best possible place and is receiving expert attention.
|a lamb in a box|
My day as a shepherd is nowhere near over... but, now I'm kinda beat...
…it’s only 4pm!