Assisting a sheep birth. I love birth. The magical new life, the first moments. Human and livestock, it’s all so wonderful to me. We are amidst my favorite season right now with all of our lambs and goats giving birth. Today was hard, and it could have been worse. We know that new life can be so fragile. Today was the first time I had to help one of our animals give birth.
So far this season we had 2 textbook perfect births. Both moms did great, and all babies were born strong. This morning when I did our morning checks I watched our ewe (sheep), Snow, for a few minutes. I thought, today is the day, she looks like she is in early labor. She was walking slower, and staying away from the herd a bit.
Every hour or so we continued to check on her. Around noon she was laying down and pushed a couple of times, that is the point of no return that I always look for. She went another 2 hours, getting down and back up multiple times, pushing a couple of times, but no real progress. My baby hadn’t taken his nap yet, so I went in and tried to put him down. When I came back out, she looked the same, but I just knew something wasn’t right. I could just feel it.
Sheep Birth Assistant
So I “checked” her. Really weird, I have never shoved my arm inside a sheep before, well now I have. I had no idea what I was feeling for. After I checked her a gush of water mixed with meconium came out. Well, that proved my feelings were valid. That is a huge sign of distress, and means you have a very small time frame to get the babies out before babies and mom die.
Death crossed my mind for the first time, what if we lose a lamb? What if we lost our ewe? She is one of our favorites, and we only have 4! But in the moment you have to push those thoughts aside. What can I do to help her? How do I get these lambs out NOW? I ran inside and messaged my neighbor (and goat guru) to see if she was available to help. She messaged me back right away, and was over in a few minutes.
The first lamb was tangled up, and stuck in the birth canal. It took her a few minutes to try to get him positioned and out. As soon as he was out she pulled him up and swung him in the air to clear his lungs. He was alive! She spent a few minutes rubbing his chest, clearing out his nose. He was barely hanging on, but he was alive. She went in for the second one, that was also positioned horribly. It was hooves/nose first, which is correct, but it was upside down. She had to work hard to get her out. The mama ewe was so tired, and hardly pushing to help. The third lamb was positioned correctly, and she was able to push her out on her own.
Three healthy lambs. Seriously. My neighbor said her birth canal was smaller than it should be, and her lambs were big, especially the first one. Given the circumstances, all 3 lambs should have died. With meconium in the fluid, and the ewe was too exhausted to push. I am in awe that the birth ended how it did. Beyond grateful, we are so blessed.
Being a Faithful Farmer
My first sheep birth assist is in the books now. Seeing an assist first hand like that gives me more confidence to help if we ever have lambs that aren’t positioned properly again. We have 2 more births to go this season, one is this ewe’s sister, the other is her daughter. I am trying to keep my thoughts positive, and praying that those sheep birth independently. Preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, is exactly what we did when preparing for kidding. Sometimes having faith can be the hardest part of being a farmer.