Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cast and Call

I learned about trusting my instincts this week. Unfortunately, it took a near-tragedy to do it.

It all started the night before last, about 20 minutes after midnight. I'd woken up suddenly with "check-the-sheep-check-the sheep" circling in my brain. We have a baby-monitor out in the barn in case the three lagging (huge) ewes left to lamb finally decide to get it over with. But there were no lambing sounds. It was cold. I had to wake up in 3 1/2 hours to go to work and I didn't want to trudge out there, find the sheep fine and dandy, and lie awake for my last three hours of precious-before-an-extra-hectic-day sleep. So I ignored my gut feeling, rolled over and went to back to sleep.

I got up at 4 (My usual workday routine) and went down to check on the sheep (Not part of the usual routine). At first it seemed things were fine. I easily spotted all three pregnant ewes grazing in the new pasture we'd just opened for them. And there were the lambs, as usual, clustered in their little "gang of four". I was about to head back up to the house when I heard this awful, continuous wheezing.

It was then that I found Acorn (Our lovely, friendly, favorite ewe Acorn) about 50 yards away. Upside down with all four feet and a full udder in the air. This, in sheep lingo, is called "cast". Acorn was a "cast ewe", which means she somehow got stuck that way. Now, it may seem silly (and certainly non adaptive!) that a sheep could lie down for a nap, roll the wrong direction and due to a dip in the Earth beneath her, or a fence beside her or whatever, find herself stuck like a turtle. But it is not a laughing matter. Acorn's lungs were being squashed by the weight of her prodigious belly for however long she'd been like this and, perhaps even worse, she'd eaten a meal of fresh grass, the digestion of which was stopped by the sudden "turn" of events and had gagged green foam and aspirated it into her squashed lungs.

I did one of those "Mother lifts Volkswagen to save baby" maneuvers, jumped through the fence and hauled her right side up before I thought about it. Poor Acorn was wheezing and choking, shaky and bloated. I thought for sure she was a goner.

I ran back to the house to wake Dan and then did some quick research on what to do. (It is an unfortunate aspect of shepherding that however much you read beforehand, you only truly "know" what to do when you've been through the wringer on one emergency or another. I'd read about "cast sheep" before, but I needed to review. On the bright side-- I will know what to do for cast ewes from here on out. The information is IN there for good now-- indelibly so.)

Anyway, we rubbed her rumen to get it working again-- she had bloat from being cast (Our first bout of bloat in 3 1/2 years of sheep!) and that was about all we could do. After a few hours, Acorn was back out with her woolly brethren. Today, she seems fine.

We are not out of the woods yet. There is a chance that she will get secondary pneumonia from all that extra fluid in her lungs, or some sort of infection due to her weakened state. But if I had gone to work without the barn check the way I usually do, she'd likely have been dead by the time Dan made it out at 7.

Then again, If I had honored the call of my subconscious, that little "check the sheep" nudge, we might all have been spared a horrific morning and a lot of wait-and-see worry. I have to trust myself a little more, I guess.


Everett said...

We've really forgotten how important and accurate our "instincts" are in this day and age. Congrats on you for trusting yours.

I hope Acorn is doing fine now.

Christy said...

I hope Acorn is ok. How scary! Now I know if I ever run into this. Thanks.

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