It’s always such a relief when lambing actually starts and you get the first few out. Every year I’m nervous. I haven’t lambed since a year ago, will I have forgotten anything vital, what if I get a presentation I can’t handle, have I got the nutrition right so the lambs aren’t too small and weak or too big and hard to get out?
All these questions fly around my head in the lead-up and eat away at my confidence, so it was with a big sigh of relief that we kicked off with two fabulous births from two of my more experienced ewes. Both fab mothers, both presented all their lambs correctly with no complications, and I even managed to capture some of it on video for you to share!
We then hit our first difficult presentation of the year, and one that definitely needed my intervention! What you hope to see first are the little white slippers poking out, followed by a nose. The slippers are soft cartilage on the end of the hooves so the lamb passes easily through the birth canal with no damage to the ewe and, being white, they’re easy to spot from across the pen. What you don’t want to see is just a nose, or the tip of a tail, or just lots of straining with nothing emerging at all. This ewe was pushing hard and I sensed a problem, and then I saw the hint of a nose. My heart sunk. I managed to grab my box, get in and catch the ewe, a first-timer who I haven’t yet built a bond with. I got her lying down, but I was alone and holding the front end while getting an arm into the back end is a skill I’ve just about cracked over the years but it’s definitely easier with two! A quick check reveals a head-first presentation with no hint of legs at all. Sometimes, the front hooves are just behind the nose and you can pull one or both forward, but this is one of those that the legs are clearly slicked back against the body, and it’s stuck. There’s only one way this is coming out, but to do that, it first has to go back in.
Ewes never cease to amaze me. Right up until half an hour ago, this new first-time ewe would have run from me and done laps of the pen, possibly even jumped over the barriers, rather than even let me stroke it on the head. Suddenly, it’s lying with me now not even holding her front end down, and letting me intervene to get her lamb out. They just know. And it’s very humbling. And slightly terrifying because I now have her lamb’s lives and potentially hers in my hands. So I have to get this right.
The lamb goes back into the uterus ok, with me pushing against the ewe’s contractions, but I really struggled to find any legs. She’s very full of lamb, so it keeps popping its head back into the entrance to the birth canal making it particularly challenging. Eventually, I track back along its body far enough to find a front hoof and pull it forward, untangling it from the second lamb that is already starting to make its presence felt. I get her up for a quick walk around the pen which stops her contracting for a few moments and lets everything relax, and we go again. She’s so full that I really can only get one leg forward, superman they call it. She’s a big enough ewe and having felt the lamb by then, I’m pretty sure it can come out like that so I mentally make the call to go for it. She pushes, I pull, twisting around the second shoulder and get it out and up to her head where she immediately starts to lick and mother it. So lovely to see, especially from a first-timer having such a challenging birth! As she’s down and having a rough ride, I go in to find and pull the second lamb out.
By now, there’s plenty of room inside her and I quickly locate the front legs and head, and draw it out. I thought I felt a third at this stage, but wasn’t sure. I did go in and start to check for a third but I must confess that I got distracted by the second lamb writhing onto it’s back. That particular movement indicates the lamb can’t get breath into the lungs, so I quickly switch my attention to sorting that out. She was scanned for two, she’s had enough of a trauma, I “bump” the belly and can’t feel a third, so I lead her off to a bonding pen to settle and enjoy her lambs. I wasn’t hugely surprised that, an hour later, she popped out a third lamb. No wonder she was so full and the legs of that first one couldn’t manoeuvre into the correct position!
So a good first day. All the ewes are settled and the lambs healthy and a good size. Back to watching and waiting for the next arrivals ….