Midnight: Matt tells me that Chloe is starting labor – she has a bag protruding and is restlessly shifting. I set an alarm to wake up in 90 minutes.
1:44 – I can see on the Barn Cam that Chloe has birthed one black lamb. Out to the barn I go to find a large, handsome ram lamb. I set Chloe up with a pen, and I notice a foot sticking out of Chloe. Usually, lambs are born in a crouched position, front legs forward. The sole of this hoof was facing upward- clearly the hind leg of a lamb coming out backwards. Lambs can be born backwards, but it is usually smart to help; the umbilical cord will break before the lamb’s head is out, prompting the lamb to breathe. If the lamb tries to breathe while its head is still inside, it can drown. I locate the second leg and a thin white lamb slips right out. She coughs and splutters and finally manages a big inhale and a tiny “maaahhh.” I towel her and her brother off, as it’s quite chilly out and they can chill before they muster the energy to stand.
Back in the house, I set an alarm for 2 hours.
3:44 – Despite my hopes, the lambs have chilled and aren’t standing well. Chloe doesn’t look great herself, spending an unusual amount of time lying down. I focus on the lambs – I bring them in, mix them up some stored colostrum and give them a quick first meal to help them along. I’ve found that often, a little energy boost gives them what they need to stand up and learn to nurse. Failure to intervene would likely result in hypothermic or dead lambs in the morning. I warm the lambs by the fire and feed each one. Both respond well, and soon they have little coats on and are headed back to Mom. I know that they can make it through to morning on this feeding, even if they don’t decode nursing on their own.
Back in bed at 5am.
At 8am, Matt goes out to do morning chores. Usually, this is my job, but Matt has kindly agreed to let me sleep given all of the hustle and bustle overnight. He comes back immediately, reporting that the ram lamb is bleeding out! I had noticed that the ewe lamb was bleeding more than usual from her umbilicus, but I didn’t really register it as an emergency. When Matt brought the ram in, however, he was weak and shaking, with a massive sausage-like bruised mass of an umbilicus. (I’m putting the photo of this at the very bottom of the post- it will be educational for shepherds but it’s more gross than I usually show). The vet confirms my suspicion – it didn’t look like a hernia where all of the intestines are coming out. I tied the umbilicus off with six inches of button thread from Matt’s sewing kit and we offered the ram lamb some electrolytes. In minutes, he was up and more alert. Success!
At 9am, we are noting that the ewe lamb isn’t nursing. Matt and I take some time trying to nursing-train her. We get her to latch, but she didn’t drink a lot. We are still concerned about Chloe, and it occurs to me that she could have a mild case of Milk Fever, which happens when the body deploys too much calcium to provide milk for the lambs, leaving the ewe’s calcium levels low. We ground some Tums in our coffee grinder and added water to make a drench. Some Tums and hot molasses-water had Chloe looking brighter.
We debated what to do about the ewe lamb- would she be better off on the bottle? How much intervention is too much? How do we provide just enough help without lessening her chances of ever nursing from her mother? Even after seven years of kidding and lambing, I always ponder this question at length. Matt and I agree that if she is too weak, we will bring her in for warming and go from there.
I go back to sleep after this- it’s now 11am.
I’m a little vague on times after this, but Matt went back to keep working on getting the lambs to nurse. Once the ram wasn’t bleeding, he was up and at-em, nursing away. But the ewe still needed help. He milked Chloe into a bottle and fed the ewe lamb, but couldn’t get her to latch.
At 3pm, I was up for the day and went out. Finally, after lots of patient guidance, the ewe lamb latches and suckles for several minutes. I let her go, and she latches herself and nurses again! Doing a victory dance in the middle of their bonding pen would have been counterproductive, so I saved that for my announcement of the news to Matt back in the house.
We will keep monitoring this little family, but finally, I am comfortable that everything is headed in the right direction.
Here’s the hemorrhaged umbilicus, for those who want to see it: