It seems in anything I’ve done, I’ve had a trial by fire. Why? Because God knows that’s how I learn…the hard way.
Scaredy Cat and Little Bit were obviously in heat, or exhibiting oestrus, in September. The rams were literally fighting for their favor. By ramming heads, hence their names? Nah, but by flanking the ewe on both sides and waiting for the opportunity to push the other out of the way. The females are miserable during this process. At least ours were. They attempted so many maneuvers to scrape the rams off their sides, to no avail. We aren’t sure how the actually process of elimination of the second ram came to be because we weren’t there to see. We only know Romeo did not win. After almost 5 months of being demoted, his testicles have shrank and he no longer attempts to grow horns. The horns simply remain tiny nubs. Mercutio, however, has grown all over, and even though his horns grow, he continues to rip them off like a buck deer does the velvet on his rack during the rut.
The gestation for a ewe is about 5 months. We are aiming for 145 days. So we’ve been waiting since we could see clear signs of pregnancy: Big bellies and no more exhibiting oestrus. One day my son, Seth, goes down to the sheep and calls me with a serious, “Something is hanging out of one of the ewes!” Off I run thinking I’ll see a baby lamb only to find what I instinctively know is a prolapsed vagina from Scaredy Cat. Great. How the heck do I deal with that on a ewe who would rather run into fire than into my arms?? Let the trial begin.
Long story short, she lost her baby. From what the vet could tell and from what I witnessed, her cervix opened enough to allow bacteria into the womb during a prolapse reduction. (She would prolapse, then self-reduce before it could be cleaned of poop pellets and hay. This had happened many times before we found Dr. Davies to come out and put a stitch to hold it inside.) She was doing really well for over a week. Then I noticed her lying on her side, away from the flock, straining and pushing and crying out. I stressed over what to do, so the vet and I decided she may be in labor, so the stitch had to come out. Thanks to my sister and brother in law, we caught her and put her in the hay barn. Her utter was very full! Good sign for labor! Did the pushing stop? Yes. Because all she was doing was pushing out her prolapse again. That urge to push the vagina must be as strong as the urge to push a baby. I saw her cervix, which was dilated the diameter of my middle finger. Again, the prolapse would reduce itself over and over with lots of nasty debris. A day or so later I noticed a bulge of a bag filled with bloody fluid. I assumed this was a normal amniotic sac (remember I am new to this). Later that day the sac must have ruptured some because she had bloody drainage around her legs, and the smell… The smell was that of rotten hamburger meat. I know that much from finding hamburger I had lost by sniffing out the horrid smell of death in my house at age 19.
Dr. Davies, “You have to pull the babies.” She also said they would most likely be dead, and so would my ewe if they didn’t come out. “Put your hand in there and feel for her cervix. See if it’s open and if you can feel the baby, (gave me lots of instructions on what to look for as far as presentation goes and how to stretch the cervix to full dilation) then pull it. If you only feel a tail, call me!” Deep breath.
I felt ears, and a very tight rubber band-like tissue around it…the cervix. I opened my fingers to stretch it. My poor ewe, being held lovingly by Steve, cried out. My stomach turned. I removed my hand and leaned over the gate for a big gag and deep breath. In again. Same thing. Cervix wouldn’t change and I couldn’t push or pull the lamb. The water broke and the dark smell of rotten death poured from her bottom. I removed my hand, heaving and gagging, only to go in again to get this poor dead baby out of my very sick ewe. Failure set in. Deep failure. Dr. Davies would be here at 6 o’clock to take over.
After many meds and a couple hours of hard labor, for ewe and vet, the dead baby was removed, but my ewe was still to undergo a bit more hell. First her womb was flushed. An IV couldn’t be had because her blood pressure was so low the vein blew, so an oral gastric tube was inserted and water was pumped into her stomach. She was given oxytocin, antibiotic, and vitamin B injections. She was shaking so bad. She was lying in the straw, so I covered her with clean towels and lots of hay so that only her head was sticking out. The warming light was on and after loving on her and saying a prayer, I closed the door and waited the night to see if she would survive.
The next day she was up and about. The day after that she received her last antibiotic injection, which sent her to her knees! Aye, I thought I killed her. A week later and she’s still recovering, and with her flock. She still strains to poop and pee, but I’m assuming it’s from all the trauma and internal swelling inside her genital area. She’s back to being a wild deer at heart, but will now come take a treat from my hand.
So! What I have learned is VALUABLE! I hate what happened to her, but am so thankful for this early learning opportunity. This is my noob advice:
A: Have a vet! Have. A. Vet. It doesn’t matter if you just have one in name only, and never need them. As a new animal farmer, have a vet. My vet only charges $40-50. depending on the type of visit. You, of course, have to pay for any medications given or procedures done, but again, this is minimal considering human and domestic pet charges. I love my vet. Although she has to commit herself to her practice and scheduled patients, she was at my door both times I needed her right after her long day in office. My ewe would not have survived if not for my vet. So, have a vet. And if you find you don’t like your vet…get a new one. (but you can’t have mine!)
B: Have a prolapse harness at the ready. No. Matter. What. CLICK HERE for a handy link to a harness.
C: As soon as you see the prolapse, catch the ewe, clean the prolapse very very well, reinsert and apply the harness until she lambs. Here is a link for awesome info on the subject. This is most favorite website for info.
D: Administer antibiotics after ‘fixing’ the prolapse. Ask the vet you have already gotten about anti inflammatory like Banamine to keep the urge to push at bay until actual labor. I haven’t gotten to ask my vet about this yet, but I have read good things about it from other shepherds who have dealt with prolapse.
They say, ‘they’ say, to cull (kill) the ewe who prolapses because it’s hereditary. Others say, ‘others’ say, this is not always the case. We paid $140. for this ewe. We paid $120 for the initial visit, suture and meds. We paid $200 for the delivery/sick visit. We have a lot invested in this girl. We are thinking of giving her a good year to heal and grow, then trying again. I’ll be much better prepared to take care of her then than I am to send her to slaughter right now.
Little Bit is doing well and showing no signs of impending labor except an enlarging utter. I’m hoping I’ve got all the things I’m gonna need for a rejected lamb that I’ll have to bottle feed. You know, just in case I have to learn the hard way.