Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What's in the Vet Box?

1st lamb of the  2014 season

Lambing Season is here 
        once more!

this old girl has a couple of weeks until her due date

For the next several weeks, I will be on Ovine Obstetrical duty 24/7.

I really like this time of year…it’s exciting to walk into the barn and see the miracle of life happening right before your eyes.

But, there are times when the miracle needs a little human intervention.  That’s when it’s time for me to get my well-stocked vet box and leap into action. (ok, leap is a little strong…but, it sounds good)  In order to better understand shepherding, you should know what’s in the vet box. And you should read this, too.

I guess I should start by explaining that it isn’t a box at all…it’s more of a tote. I think I found it in the cleaning section of the store, but I’ve had it so long I don’t remember.  The shape is perfect for fitting securely over the gates in the barn. Yes, I tried a bucket---the sheep think it has food in it, look inside and dump everything on the barn floor. (definitely NOT helpful)

various ways lambs can be presented for birth
all but the first one  need some sort of assistance

It’s also important to note that I don’t have to assist with every birth, but when intervention is called for, it should be prompt. I have tried to anticipate all the needs of the barn so I don’t have to run back and forth countless times.  The running is particularly annoying during those middle-of-the-night calls when it’s snowing/sleeting/raining. 

 So, what's in that vet box?

The long orange glove is an OB glove.  They are very long and designed to wear when doing an internal exam of the animal. (yes, in THERE) Since they are made for giants, I put a little latex glove over top. I learned this tip from the vet techs and it makes it so much easier. (no more floppy fingers)  Then I put a blob of SUPERLUBE (really the name and it's the blue stuff) in the palm.  This is an antiseptic/lubricant that makes it easier to get my hand where it really does not belong and has the added benefit of controlling germs. (remember we are talking about the barn) 

Scissors are used to clip the umbilicus. A little vial of iodine is used on the trimmed umbilical cords to disinfect them and dry them out.  Again, we’re worried about germs entering the animal’s body. I keep the iodine in a recycled syringe tube since that is the perfect size to fit the newborn lamb’s navel (and it fits in one of the holes in the tote) and the tube has a tight-fitting lid.  The lid helps to avoid leaks.  Nothing like having EVERYTHING stained with iodine---there is a reason it is called the “shepherd’s badge”.
this is not really my idea of a fashion statement

The little bulb aspirator is made for baby humans.  It is used for clearing mucus and fluid from the newborn lamb’s nose and throat.  Some farmers use a bit of straw to make the baby cough and rid itself of the fluid, I have found that the “sucker” works better for me.

There are a couple of syringes---used for administering any necessary medications.  Our area is very selenium deficient and supplementation is necessary.  Occasionally a chilled lamb will be given penicillin in an attempt to avoid pneumonia.  Any ewe that has had any type of interventive treatment is also given penicillin to protect against metritis. (an infection of the uterus which is possible after invasive assistance)

That bottle of “survive” and the blackstrap molasses are used when it’s been a tough delivery. Survive is a vitamin/mineral drench for lambs and the molasses is a little treat for the mama. I also keep some tubes of probiotics in the refrigerator and add them to my box as I head out to the barn.  These provide “good bugs” for the newborns sterile gut and promote healthy appetite and stimulate their immune systems.  …and the ewes think the stuff tastes good.
yes, I do have sheep meds in my fridge

There is a bolus gun.  Not a gun in any true sense…more a pill doser.  It is incredibly difficult to give solid oral medication to a sheep (or any other farm animal) By sticking the pill in the bolus gun and putting it in the animal’s mouth, the chances of actually getting it IN the animal are greatly increased.  (I don’t use this very often, injections are quicker and easier) It is also possible to give liquid medications with the drencher. (that's the little tube with the yellow plunger)

There is an intubation tube  (actually, I have a different one---the on in the photo was eaten by Milly-the-goat) Did you read Adventures with Milly-the-Goat? And don't miss Part 2 of Adventures with Milly-the-Goat.

If the lamb is too weak to suckle, it is possible to put the tube down its gullet into its stomach and slowly pour colostrum/milk replacer down the tube, nourishing the lamb.  Results can be astoundingly good…but, there are times when nothing helps. We have a bag of milk replacer in the spare room to use for any bottle babies. 

There’s a scale and a weighing sling…sometimes I really want to know how much that lamb weighs and the livestock scale is a little unwieldy.  There is a notebook and pencil for …well…notes. (I tend to be a little old-school) The thermometer is handy in diagnosing infection or hypothermia.

That yellow thing is called a “ewe spoon”.  (and I hope to NEVER use it again) Sometimes, the lambs are large, the ewe is small and all that “extra baggage” has a difficult time staying where it is supposed to.  The spoon goes up inside the ewe and it attached to a harness on the outside and keeps everything  in place. (well, sort of)  In all our years shepherding, we’ve only had to use this once (and that involved a vet call), but it’s better to be prepared.

Those little orange donut-like rings are used for docking tails and castration. While we don’t do this immediately after birth, it’s handy to know where they are. (they can be used as a tourniquet if need be) One last thing in the vet box is a stitch kit.  I’ve never had to stitch up an animal, but again…better safe than sorry.

In addition to the vet box, I have a big pile of “barn towels” that we keep just for lambing season.  These are used to massage and dry the newborns.  The massaging has the added benefit of stimulating the young animal’s internals and getting everything working properly.

There you have it…the vet box…standing at the ready for my regular barn rounds for the next couple of weeks.  

You know…just in case I have to LEAP into action.
this little guy needed no birth assistance
just a little check-up afterwards

**Thanks to the Boss for taking most of today's photos!**


  1. Lovely photographs all serve to remind me why we don;'t lamb any more!!
    No-one has started lambing round us yet but some will do so before long.
    Happy new year to you all - and here's to a good lambing season.

  2. This was nice to read. It reminded me of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small. I found you via Jeff's 500 Word Challenge link up. I'm a new follower. I wish you a happy and blessed new year.

  3. Congratulation for the great post. Those who come to read your Information will find lots of helpful and informative tips. Vitamin and Mineral Drench for Sheep