Saturday, March 31, 2012

Babies, at Last

Well, wouldn't you know it.  Here, by my dates, I was expecting the Shetlands to lamb first, but, of course, what do I come out and find but triplets from one of the Corriedales.  SURPRISE.  Working with animals always keeps you on your toes.  

You can see the two black ones and just the back feet of the one white one. After the lambs are born, mom and babies are put in a small pen, called a lambing jug.They stay in the jug for as long as it takes to make sure the mom and babies have bonded, and in the case of triplets, to see that all the babies are thriving.

Last night, the action started again, and I am going to show a few pictures of birthing for sheep.  I hope this isn't too graphic, but it is nature working.  I had no idea that I would become a midwife when I started working with sheep. They usually do the job themselves, but I like to be around, just in case a mom has trouble.  

When labor is starting, the ewe may pace around uttering quite pathetic cries, paw the ground, lie down, get up, and lie down again. The sound of her cries is absolutely specific to pain, and repeated so constantly, I stop what I am doing and find out who is starting labor. The first visible indication is the emergence of the water bag.

As labor begins, she lies down and starts to push.  This can take from 15 minutes to an hour.  Any longer, and you start to  worry that the baby won't survive, but you have to give the process time.

Here is the head just emerging.  The proper presentation is the head with the two front feed tucked just under the baby's chin. If there is only one foot, the other may be folded back, a problem.

Now, the head and shoulders are out, so the going is easier.

Here the baby is out, and I slid it around so she could start licking it, an important step in bonding.  I always make sure the nose is clear of the birth sack, so the baby can breathe. Usually, the baby shakes its head almost immediate, gasping for air, a good sign.  If not, then I try to clear the air passage.

This was a very healthy baby, and he was up and nursing quickly.  You can see the bag of water emerging for the next baby.  Having the mother sheared makes it easier for the baby to find the teat, and for me to know that the lamb is suckling the all-important colostrum, rich in antibodies and nutrition.  The colostrum is deep in color, thick and creamy.  I tried a traditional dish once, of baked colostrum  Cows have more colostrum than their calves need, and when baked, makes a custardy dish.  I didn't add sweetener or eggs or salt, and the custard was flat and bland.  If I were still breeding Jersey cows, I would try again.  Sheep don't have an excess of colostrum, and I want those babies to have every last drop of its protection.

Hooray, we have twins, healthy and happy.  Good news for the new family and the anxious shepherd.

The count is now about 16 babies, with two sets of triplets, a set born at 5:15 am this morning, and all three babies had a set of lungs for cries that penetrated to my bedroom and sent me out with the flashlight.  Lambing is exciting, but I don't make travel plans as I need to stay close by the farm.

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