Sunday, February 24, 2008

It was a Dark and Stormy Night: Tales of Lambing Horror Part 1

Okay, so "horror" is a bit of a strong term. But as spring ever-so-slowly approaches (43 degrees today!) a shepherd's thoughts invariably turn to lambs, and with lambs all the many possible complications that might occur during the process known as "lambing". In the spirit of the coming season, I thought I might share a few of our hard-won lambing lessons.

Icelandics are known to be easy lambers. Dropping lambs right out there in the pasture, picking up the mothering thing easy as pie, managing just fine thank you with no more than a dip of Betadyne at the navel and a BoSe injection. And during our first spring Daisy and Copper proved true to the mythos of the hardy Icelandic ewe. Boy, did those girls make it look easy! The following year, Dan and I were good to go. "Hey," we figured "What's to worry?"

Well, you know what they say about overconfidence....

Here's one of our several "fun" lambing experiences from year two:

It was May, getting late for lambing. Dan woke up early (Perhaps he had a premonition...?) and went down to check on expectant ewe Daisy. It was a Thursday, one of the days I work from home, with the preschool aged kids while he goes into work. I rose lazily (As lazy as a person can at 6:30 in the morning) and peeked out the window towards the barn. Dan was out there in the middle of the pasture and Daisy was too. Okay, thought I, this is a little odd...

"Everything Okay, hon?"

He shook his head, too winded to speak, and boy did he look befuddled, bedraggled (did I mention the steady, cold drizzle?) and bedownherenow. I put on my boots and, waking the kids ("Get ready for the bus, Micah! You're on your own for a minute, I have to go out to the barn"), hurried away.

When I arrived, Dan had Daisy cornered against the fence. And there was a lamb-- well, the head and one long leg of lamb-- sticking out of her behind. The head was already dry which meanst the lamb had been stuck like this a while. My heart sunk. Too late! I thought, ruing my overconfidence. Oh, why didn't I wake up at three to check on Daisy as a better shepherd might? I touched the lamb (Which is a beautiful dark moorit) and the strangest thing happened. Although the eyes were slitted up and the tongue was lolling, the teeny lips smacked a few times.

Oooookay..... What do we do now?

Now, I wasn't going in completely cold. I had done my research, TONS of research. I'd read about lambing, combed my Storey's Guide" more than a dozen times. But just then, the next step eluded me. My mind was a fuzzy blank.

We caught Daisy (Who, even in the midst of all this, was tempted by a bucket of grain) and I ran back up to the house for my Storey's Guide. "Okay," I said, the book spread across my lap. "It says here that we should try to push the head back in so that the two hoofs can come together." (Lambs are born like little divers, their front hoofs and nose all together in one little bundle.)

"I don't know..." Dan said.

"But that's what the book says. That's what we have to do!" (Okay, now, any fool could have seen that that head was NOT, no way in no how going back into that sheep. But I had always been a straight A student, bookish and eager, and if the book said to do it, I was damn well going to give it a try.)

I tried, imposing more than a prudent amount of pressure. (This is a descriptive as I'm going to get here folks.) But, of course, nothing much happened. Oh, and Daisy was not too happy about it either. (Could you blame her?)

"Okay, the book says if pushing the head back in doesn't work, we have to reach in and grab the other foreleg and pull it out."

Dan was all too eager to let me give step 2 a try. "I'll hold the sheep," He says. I wasn't keen on this step but I was prepared! I had my handydandy tube of Astroglide, just like the books recommended to keep for just this sort of emergency (The Astroglide, on the barn shelf with the rest of the equipment, has no doubt been a topic of out-of-our-earshot conversation for many of our farm visitors..... ) I lubed up and gave it a try. Let me just say this: The book makes this step seem a heck of a lot easier than it is. And, of course, I couldn't find the other hoof at all. Daisy was even less happy about step 2.

"Okay, the book says.... the book says.... the book doesn't say anything else!" Evidently, more accomplished shepherds never got to step 3. All their lambs come out well and good after the first two.

So, our step 3 was to call the vet. He arrived just about the time Micah was getting on her school bus out front and the other two kids were eating their morning cereal. (So responsible, my children :) Dr Schmidt put on his rubber booties and surgical looking suit, took one look at poor Daisy and yanked that lamb out. Simple as that. Cost us a hundred bucks too.

Yes, this is obvious. So obvious. And it did occur to me that I might want to try this pulling thing... but I was still brand new, visions of ripping and tearing and all kinds of terribilities dancing in my head. (And also the book didn't SAY to pull...)

So, lesson learned, if the head and one leg are out and you get to step 3, you just got to pull.

As for the lamb, he was fine and dandy after a vigorous rub down. He got up and nursed and grew into James Henry Trotter, ramly ram of Tuckaway Farm.

All's well that ends well. But next time, I think we'll just pull.


Walter Jeffries said...

I love the horns on your sheep!

You asked about keeping pigs over on my blog. I would try to avoid the 500 lb pet pig problem if I were you. See this and this post. You're not too late with your kids. Start with chickens or rabbits for slaughter. Work your way up as you feel comfortable. It's a process and a skill to master.

Christy said...

That sounds like quite an adventure. I do worry about lambing problems when we get sheep. I'm not sure how well I'll be able to handle them but I guess I just will because I'll have to.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful description of our own first lambing! I learned my lambing skills from James Herriot, and threw down the sheep book.


P said...

Thanks! Funny how we discount common sense so readily when we have the words of the "experts" close at hand. :)