It’s taken me a while to decide what to share with you this week. I was in the middle of a huge waiting game the past few weeks didn’t know how it would all end. Now that it’s over, I can finally sit down and tell you about it.
Chrysanthemum (Mum, for short), my light Moorit-colored ewe, was pregnant with a lamb or two.
When we got her in November, we had no idea if she was bred. The flock she came from had a ram with the ewes for a few months, so if she was pregnant, there was a large time window for a possible birth. (Knowing what I know now, the date of intentional breeding is very important to me and is in the best interest of the well-being of my sheep.)
By late December, we were positive Mum was pregnant. Her sides were so much larger than before, and her udder began to develop too. We researched how to know when a sheep is ready to give birth. We equipped ourselves with all the tools, milk replacement, and (because the weather had been consistently below freezing) all the little lamb sweaters we might need. All we had to do was wait.
Then Mum started spending more time in the shelter by herself, sometimes pawing at the ground and shifting around. Was it getting close to lambing time? This lasted for a few days, and she seemed more and more tired every day. I realized that she refused to lie down and looked pained. After calling the previous owner to see if this had happened in Mum’s previous pregnancy the year before, we were told that it was in fact not normal—call the vet, she said, and expect the worst…her lambs had probably died from a prolonged labor.
But the vet had the opposite to say. Apparently she hadn’t been in labor, and probably wouldn’t be for days still. While examining her though, he found an injury in her lower back/hip (the s.i. joint) that had probably occurred in the past, but was made serious by her added weight and loosened hips from pregnancy. So he helped her lie down, and prescribed an anti-inflammatory to help relieve her pain so she could be in a better state when it was time to lamb.
Each morning, I gave her the medicine—pills mashed up in some water—which she took stoically, even though I could tell she hated the taste. I brought the small water tub up to her face several times a day so she could drink, and hand-fed her hay and minerals until she could stand up and get food and water on her own a few days later.
It was so hard to watch her lying there so helpless, with a little lamb inside of her. I watched her heavy breathing and could see her pain. There were a couple nights when she would rest her head against my hand and I thought she was telling me she might die soon, but the next morning I would find her still trying to keep going. Mum easily could’ve given up, but was holding on and enduring it all for her lamb.
After almost a week she was getting up and down easier, though she was very stiff and a little unsteady. She rejoined the other three sheep and was enjoying sitting in the sun and watching the ducks who hang out by the sheep’s fence. Throughout all of this, I was constantly checking her rear and udder, looking for signs of upcoming labor.
Then yesterday morning, my mom went outside earlier than me. She hurried back to the house and banged on the window saying, “There’s a lamb, get out here!”
I grabbed some towels, put on my overalls, coat, and gloves as quick as I could and ran outside, trying not to slip on ice as I carried supplies. I could barely believe it. After all those days of constant vigilance and care, Mum had begun labor overnight, with no prior warning.
The lamb had just been born. It was warm and Mum was turning around to start licking away the lining. My mom picked it up and I cleared the lamb’s nose and mouth. But there was no breath. We tried and tried to get it breathing, but nothing came. After thinking back, my mom realized that she hadn’t felt a strong heartbeat either when she first picked it up. I don’t remember how long we spent trying to warm up and revive the lamb and make it breathe.
Mum was baaing softly the whole time, licking her lamb and nudging it. It never took a breath.
I went inside to call the vet. He gave instructions on what to do if Mum still had to deliver a twin, and to call if there were any issues. The first lamb was most likely a stillborn, he thought. The rough pregnancy could’ve caused a premature birth, or her labor may have been simply too long and strained. We will never know how long it lasted though, because it started too early in the morning.
When I went back outside, Mum had her head resting on the lamb, now clean and dry—perfect-looking in every way. It was a ewe lamb. She had black and brown markings, probably what would’ve been considered moorit, like her mother.
It was awful to take the lifeless lamb away from Mum, but it had to be done if she was going to deliver a second lamb. I got a lawn chair and my hat and set up camp to wait for another lamb that I was hoping Mum had still inside her. I waited for over two hours after the lamb had been born, but she passed the afterbirth and nothing else happened. Frozen and heartbroken, I finally gave up hope that she would have another baby and went back inside.
Today, Mum is doing better. The weight of the pregnancy finally off of her hips seems to help her stand easier. I can’t tell if her quiet attitude today is because she’s worn out from labor, or if she is still feeling the loss of her lamb…maybe it’s both. It was obvious that she would’ve been a good mother. It’s just sad that because of her injury and all the complications she had, she will never be bred again. That sweet little ewe lamb was her last one.
We will continue to care for Mum and help her heal as best as we are able. While this experience was very difficult and sad, it is all a part of life. My grandma wrote a sweet consolation to my mom and me this afternoon:
“Remember that everything is ultimately part of God’s plan, as awful as it sometimes appears. He had a reason for putting all of you through it. That’s not a copout—how could it be otherwise? I sure don’t want it not to be true! Where would we be without His constant presence in our lives! And that baby lamb is with Him in Heaven now. I think He has a special love for lambs, since they were present at the birth of His Son, along with the shepherds. I thank Him for these experiences; and I pray that I understand what he’s asking me to learn, share, say, see, do.”
All life is precious.
The connected life of a Mum and her lamb was very special to me.
Thank you to all of you who were keeping up with Mum’s hardships as they were happening. Though this was my first experience with lambing, I hope it will not be my last. I enjoy my sheep very much and hope to share the joy with you all through Driftless Woolens.
Wednesday, Jan 31, 2018