Sorry for the gap between posts but life has been a bit topsy turvy for the last couple of weeks, hopefully it will be a bit calmer for the next few weeks. So back to the story.
Lambing was due to start on the 14th of March , the ewes were due to be moved closer to home on the 8th to start the round the clock surveillance and shutting in at night from the 9th.. On the 6th I was doing a routine check on the ewes when I noticed a ewe standing alone away from the rest, as I approached she ran off and I saw what looked like a foot sticking out of her rear. As I couldn't catch her on my own I rushed home to get the OH and the lambing equipment. We managed after some chasing around to corner her. It was a head and one leg presentation, I managed to deliver the lamb but it was in a very stressed condition, still breathing but only just. With any aided delivery you have to check for more lambs, in this case there was another lamb in the canal and it was a breech presentation. This means that the back legs are coming first, these lambs have to be delivered as quickly as possible because the cord breaks before the lamb is out and it risks drowning in the birth fluid, this lamb had already been waiting sometime behind the first lamb. I pulled it out quickly and we set to work on getting it breathing. If you have ever seen James Herriot swinging a lamb round his head then that is exactly what we do, we also have something called Respirot, putting a couple of drops of this up the nose of a lamb often has the desired effect of starting it breathing, or even a straw poked gently up the nose can make the lamb take a breath. The lamb started breathing but both lambs were in very poor condition. We had to get them into a warm environment as quickly as possible, we have a suzuki jeep and we loaded up ewe and lambs and got them back to the lambing shed.
One of the most important things to do with premature or weak lambs is to warm them up and get some colostrum, the ewes first milk which has more fat than normal milk and is full of antibodies to protect the lambs against various bacteria and viruses, into them. Colostrum warms the lamb from the inside and starts the digestive process working by clearing out the gut of the meconium [faeces] which has been collecting as the lamb grows in the uterus.
One of our lambing pens has an infra red light in one corner where we place poorly or cold lambs, it's important to try and keep the lambs within sight of the ewe otherwise you run the risk that the ewe will reject the lambs. We did everything we could for those two little lambs, and in another post I will run through the sort of things we try, but it wasn't enough and within two hours they were both dead.
What a start!!!!!
The poor ewe had to be dried off and kept on short rations for a few days before going out with the non pregnant ewes. We immediately brought the rest of the ewes close to home and started the round the clock surveillance as we didn't want anymore unpleasant surprises.
Four days later one of the ewes was standing in the field looking distressed, she was staggering, her eyes were staring and her ears were flat. Ewes are vulnerable to two serious problems just before they are due to lamb, one is hypocalcaemia, a low level of calcium in the blood, the other is pregnancy toxaemia, the breakdown of their metabolism and a lowering of blood sugar levels, both have similar symptoms and both are fatal if untreated. Both problems are due to the high demands of the growing lambs on the ewe which is why correct feeding is so important. But it's not always possible to ensure that all ewes get their fair share!!!
I couldn't be sure what was wrong with the ewe so I treated her for both conditions, sub-cutaneous injections of calcium and a drench to treat the toxaemia. We bought her in and kept a close eye on her. She was no better by the next day which pointed to pregnancy toxaemia so we loaded her into our truck and I took her off to the vet. The vet confirmed toxaemia and said her only hope was if the lambs were born quickly, he gave the ewe an injection to start her lambing and I brought her home. I had only been back for about half an hour when the ewe died, I couldn't bear the thought of the lambs dying slowly in the womb so I decided to cut the ewe open and try to save the lambs.
It's not easy manhandling a very large dead animal but I succeded in opening her up but it was too late.
Three dead lambs.
In four days we had one dead ewe and five dead lambs!!!!!!!!!!!
At times like this you feel a complete and utter failure. It's hard to pick yourself up and keep going. You feel responsible for their deaths. Did you miss the signs? Could you have done more?
In the end you have to try and learn from the disaster and hope for better things to come. Look forward to the triumphs which make the bad times bearable.