Thursday, March 26, 2009

“I can’t stop when it’s watching me.”

Still breathing

The Horned One’s breathing continued to be labored. We gave her calcium injections as often as she got twitchy. And we resolved to try our best to help her deliver healthy lambs.

The Horned One went into labor at 10:30 p.m. We decided not to wait for her to lamb on her own. As soon as we saw mucus trailing down from her vulva and a little white hoof peeking out with each contraction, Dave tackled her and held her down. I wet my hands with wetting powder and water and slipped one inside of the ewe.

I could feel a pointy nose and a row of teeth. I could feel the little hoof, and back further, a second little hoof. I slid my fingers along each leg, searching blindly for the shoulder and neck that would tell me that these two hooves and the head were all part of the same lamb.

Yes, there was the shoulder on one side, leading to neck and head. I pushed my hand in further until the wrist on my jacket blocked further progress. I stripped off my jacket and knelt down behind the Horned One again. This time I was able to force my hand and arm in further and to feel along the second hoof, foot, and leg until I was sure that it was connected to the same head as the first hoof.

I slid my hand back out and grasped the hoof at the entrance to the ewe’s vulva with my finger tips. It was slippery with mucus, but I pulled it slowly out into the air. White, a little white lamb, I fished back inside the ewe for a second hoof. The lamb’s head was in position just above the second hoof. I grasped that second hoof tightly and pulled. Slowly, a big lamb slid out of his mother’s body to lay, unmoving on the straw covered barn floor.

Dave grabbed the lamb and wiped it’s nose free of mucus with a towel. Then he began rubbing the lamb’s body with the towel. The lamb’s head flopped. Dave rubbed harder. Soon the lamb took a big shuddery breath. Dave grinned at me from his place beside the Horned One. He laid the lamb in front of his mother, and she began licking it.

I eased my hand back into the uterus in front of me. There should be at least one more lamb in there. Yes! I could feel the curve of a back. Damn. This was not a good presentation, but with the first lamb born, there should be room for me to manipulate the body of the second lamb until it was in a better position for birth. I followed the little bumps of the lamb’s spine with my fingers to a head. Good, the head was almost facing out. Next I had to find feet. I pushed my hand further into the uterus along side the head and finally felt the angle of the lamb’s ankle, facing away. I crooked my middle finger over the angle and pulled. I felt the foot run into the wall of the Horned One’s uterus. I needed more room. I gently pushed the lamb further into the uterus and then hooked my finger over the angle of the ankle and pulled again. I felt the hoof scrape and then come free. Now I had a head and a hoof. With this much, I could deliver a lamb.

The big, black lamb didn’t move when we cleared the mucus from it’s face. It didn’t take a breath when Dave rubbed it’s body over and over with the towel. As a last effort, Dave took the lamb outside and holding it by its hind legs, swung the lamb in a big arc over his head. Once, twice, three times.

The lamb gasped. But still it’s head hung limp, it had no muscle tension. Dave swung the lamb another three times. It gasped, but didn’t keep breathing. He ran back into the barn and laid the lamb beside its mother. He rubbed it again and again. Each time he rubbed, the lamb took a breath. But every time Dave stopped, the lamb stopped. Dave wiped the lamb’s mouth and nose and bent over the tiny head, surrounding mouth and nose with his own lips. He breathed out; the lamb’s ribs expanded. Dave stopped blowing. The lamb stopped moving. Dave interspersed mouth to mouth with rubbing and checking for a heart beat. In the dark of the barn it was hard to see the lamb take a breath, much less detect the rapid shallow flutter of a heart beating beneath the tightly curled black wool.

Everything that Dave tried produced a breath, but nothing seemed to persuade the lamb to keep breathing. “I can see no happy ending here,” I said. “Why don’t you stop.”

“It’s eyes are open,” Dave said. “I can’t stop when it’s watching me.”

I dried the first lamb, cut it’s umbilical cord and then dipped the cord in iodine. I built a pen around the Horned One and her babies and brought her hay and a bucket of water. I entered the date, time and mother’s name in my log book. I entered the color and sex of the first lamb, but hesitated on the second. If the little black lamb didn’t live there was no need for sex or color information, it would just be listed as DEAD.

“Look,” Dave said. “Every time I wiggle my finger in the lamb’s mouth, it takes a breath.” After several minutes of wiggling, the lamb was breathing on its own.

Dave and I sat back and sighed. It was midnight. We had two living, breathing lambs and a living, breathing ewe.

Joan Jarvis Ellison from Sheep Notes

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