June 15, 2010


There are many wonderful things on the farm. We get to witness the full life cycle and participate in every step. 95% of the time it is wonderful, but some times it is very hard.

Tonight we came home and fed the sheep like normal. Daffy (short for Daffodil) came over to eat oats, but then backed up and took a strong whack at little Mr. Speckles. I watched her eyeing Mr. Speckles and realized she was starting to go into labor. It was remarkably easy to separate her from the others, except Norman who just follows me everywhere, and get her into the barn. We left her alone for half-an-hour while we all had some dinner.

We came back down to watch the birth. Usually, the sheep give birth in the middle of the night or early morning and we miss it. I wanted Jordan to get to see the full thing. When we got into the barn we saw that the head was already out, so we sat and watched. Daffy laid down and had really big contractions. Then got up, walked a bit, laid back down and had more contractions. This went on for a little while and then one hoof came out. But after another 20 minutes no progress was made and Jordan was getting bored and cold. Jeremy took her up to the house and consulted the book (Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep).

The book says that first year ewes can labor up to 3 hours and in most cases you should just let it progress. But if the lamb's position is wrong, then it's time to assist. With the head and one leg out, we needed to reposition and get the other leg out. Thankfully the book gives blow-by-blow directions.

Here is what we did: Jeremy grabbed Daffy and, as carefully as possible, laid her down so that the out-leg of the lamb was down. We put a shoelace around the lamb's head and Jeremy held the ends of the lace. I pushed the lamb back in enough so that I could reach my hand inside Daffy and find the other leg. I pulled the leg forward and the lamb came right out. We took the shoelace off (it was there to make sure the lamb head didn't go back into the pelvis) and backed up so that Daffy could do her mom-thing. But the lamb wasn't moving.

When the lamb comes out the umbilical cord breaks. This makes the lamb respond by taking a deep breath. There was no sign of breathing. We had read before that if the lamb's nose if full of mucus, then you can do a gravity swing to loosen the mucus. I took the lamb, head down, and gently swung her back and forth. I laid her back down. Nothing. Jordan started crying. I took the lamb again and swung. I wiped her nose and it was cold. She was dead.

We left her with Daffy for a bit so that Daffy could clean her up and do other instinctual things. Then Jeremy buried her.

We think what happened was that during all the pushing, which last a little over an hour, the umbilical cord broke. But since the lamb was still mostly inside Daffy, she couldn't breath and suffocated. In retrospect, the minute we saw only one leg we should have intervened. Lesson learned.

Later, after I finished reading a chapter of Judy Blume to Jordan and turned off her light, she said "I feel bad for Daffy." I agreed. She said "I hope that doesn't happen to me when I'm a mom." I reminded her that humans have hospitals and can monitor the baby and mom. That is how the doctors knew that her heart stopped when I was giving birth and we were able to do a c-section immediately. Jordan nodded. I'm not sure there are many 7 year olds who know so much about birth and death.

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