So to continue with the baby lamb saga. We do not know for sure if it is genetic, or just the result of having a large 9 pound lamb for the first time ewe, but something went wrong with the umbilical cord. The delivery, which by all appearances and compared to our only other lambing experiences last year, seemed long and hard.
Had we been a little more experienced, we would likely have caught the unusual umbilical situation earlier and saved the lamb and at the same time saved ourselves a lot of grief. A couple simple stitches or staples and all would have been well.
I give the graphic warning here. Remember this is the vaughnshire M.A.S.H. episode, so if you are farm challenged and prone to fainting, this is your fair warning. If you are not interested in reading about lamb surgery stop here and let the title of the post and the description up to this point communicate that there are farm low days as well as high days. If however, you found this article because you are trying to save your baby lamb or just interested in reading about field surgery on the lambs, read on and I’ll give you our short experience.
Because we did not notice the problem right away and we were trying to let the mother do her bonding duties with the lamb, the lamb’s intestines began to rupture through the opening where the umbilical cord should have been. By the time I went to the house and came back there was a ball about the size of an orange that looked like the umbilical cord had been wrapped up like a ball of yarn. Upon closer inspection, we found that it was actually the intestines of our poor little lamb herniating through the opening in the abdomen.
So this is the point where you ask yourself a few questions. Immediate questions come to mind, like; those don’t belong there – Do they? What in the world happened? What do I do now? Who’s idea was it to move to a farm anyhow? After realizing answering those questions really will not help at this moment, you begin to assess the situation. You look at your son who the lamb belongs to, you break the bad news to him that the lamb is not going to live. You then see the look in his eyes and you look back at the lamb. You remember the birthday of the little girl inside the house and the hopes of the other 7 children. Then you realize, that if you do nothing, the lamb is going to die. So you feel compelled to do something, after all she can’t get much worse. But what?
So you confer with your wife who has been searching the Internet for answers and find out that all you need to do is put the intestines back in the lamb and sew her up. Who would have thought it would have been so simple? Right! I am fairly confident if we had known what to do from the beginning we could have saved the little lady, but as we moved from the barn floor to the a cabinet top in the milking room, we expected the lamb to die at any moment, but as it continued to live, we continued to try to “fix” it. Had we moved immediately into the house out of the 10 degree temps with the right equipment we would have been able to perform better, and more importantly, quicker.
If you have to perform this emergency operation, here are a few things that we probably knew at some level, but would have helped if we understood what the application of that knowledge meant. First, the umbilical cord runs through the skin and into the abdominal cavity. (This means there are two cuts to make.) Secondly even though the intestines came out of a small opening there is virtually no way you are going to get them back into the same opening. Have you ever heard of pushing a wet noodle through a hole in a piece of cardboard? – its worse than that. Lastly, don’t start exploratory surgery without having the operating room ready.
We started with a “she can’t get any worse than this” philosophy that was probably the only way would could have induced ourselves to start, but it would have been better if we would have prepared a place at least with running water and heat. Did I mention that sheep have their lambs on the coldest day of the year yet? The entire procedure was very much a “cut and see” process. The further we got into trying to get her fixed up the further we had to go into uncharted territory.
In the end, we cut an incision all the way into the abdominal cavity. We slowly pushed the intestines back into the cavity, hoping somehow they were getting lined up inside. Then we sewed her up. Piece of cake, just like sewing a patch on my old navy flight jacket, except that it moved… and “baaaed” at me.
Now that we have a little lamb that is up on her feet and calling for her mommy, I should introduce the surgery team to you. The “we” I referenced above, was not my beloved wife, although she did bring needed supplies and threaded a needle for me, her primary responsibily was research. The “we” referenced was my 11 year old shepherd and his 13 year old brother; my oldest two sons. Who both played the part of men through the whole ordeal. Together we operated like a real live M.A.S.H. unit, we had horrible conditions and frigid weather and a patient in dire need of our help.
Now, if this was the end of the story, it would be a time of rejoicing. However, remember this is the part of the post talking about the lows of farm life. There is another important part of the new lambing experience. You see, the new lamb needs to eat. The mother is suppose to make sure the new lamb eats by corralling it back towards the utters and licking it on the rear. This is the part of lambing 101 that we knew about, and the part that we were waiting to happen before we checked the umbilical cord, in the first place.
Now that it has already been an hour and the little girl did not nurse prior to surgery, I should mention that sometime during the surgery “recovery” period, the boys were attempting to get some colostrum mix down the lamb from a bottle. Providentially we did have that all on hand from the recent baby goat experience.
However, we needed to get the mommy and baby bonded and feeding. The baby was still strong enough to walk and to call for the momma, and the momma would come to her and lick her. But did I mention that this was a first time momma? Apparently she did not have any idea what to do to get the little lamb to nurse. We went through all the “best practices” to get them to work together. We milked some out on the baby’s nose, we held the baby up to the teat, about the only thing we did not do was lick it’s backside. We decided that was something strictly for the momma!
In the end, the little girl would not eat. We gave her more bottled colostrum a couple times, but she continued to get weaker until she died in the night. We have no way of knowing if there were other problems with the digestive tract, or if it was simply not having the food she needed from her momma. But we are thankful for the experience we gained and that we had an oppotunity to work together to do what we could to save one of our animals. We are thankful for the lows in life as they provide contrast to the highs. We rejoice to know that God has given us the ability to embrace both good times and hard times while we are on this earth and that both of them should point us to Him.
We also rejoice that we have two other ewes who are expecting soon. We are praying that God would see fit to grant us a pleasant experience with these and that we will see them feeding on the pasture throughout the summer. Keep a look out for more, hopefully more joyful, reports on the sheep.