Mary had a little lamb…
Actually Mavis, Betty & Hattie had their lambs!
This year was my first time actively helping with lambing here at Trelay. When I was about eleven, I was addicted to reading & re-reading all the James Herriot books & watching the All Creature Great & Small TV show. I had wanted to be a vet since I was tiny & his descriptions of helping the animals sung to me, especially the stories of gruff farmers & helping ewes with difficult births. It stuck with me & although I eventually became a qualified veterinary nurse, I always worked with in small animal practices so had never seen a lamb being born.
Mavis was the first to give birth & I found out afterwards from Margot. I was happy it was an easy birth & the twins were doing well, but that 11 year old girl in me was slightly disappointed I hadn’t got to see it.
So a few days later, I was doing an afternoon check on our other two pregnant ewes. We were expecting Hattie to pop next as she was carrying triplets & Betty had not been showing any signs of imminent labour. I had looked over the fence & Hattie looked fine, but from afar Betty looked like she was down on her elbows with her neck lying on the floor at an odd angle. I climbed over the fence to go & see what was wrong & as I got halfway there she lifted her head & there was a little tiny lamb!! I let out a little happy squeak & sent out a mental shout to Margot, as I had forgotten to bring my phone with me. Margot must have heard me as she also decided to come & check the ewes, even though she was not on the rota at that time. We watched from afar as Betty licked the baby clean & as it took it first wobbly steps & then found it way to the teat.
Margot suggested we just back off & leave her to get on with giving birth to the second baby, with just occasional checks, but I REALLY wanted to see a birth. I sat quietly on the floor, well away from her for about 2 hours getting colder & colder, while searching on my phone & watching videos about the normal length of time was between lamb twins & signs of any problems. When I went up for a closer look, you could just see the nose & front hooves poking out, but no sings of Betty pushing. I eventually rushed back to the farmhouse for a very rushed dinner & we decided to bring Betty into the barn & have a closer look to see if we could feel any problems.
Margot very nicely asked if I wanted to have the first feel & that excited 11 year old in me jumped at the chance!! I removed my rings, scrubbed up & put on the long gloves. I felt my way in & could feel that the elbow joints were inline with the thickest part of the skull. I gently pulled first one leg & then the other forward, working with the contractions. It still seemed that the head was too big, so I gently put my other hand above the skull & pushed/pulled forward at the same time as pulling on the 2 legs that were out. It was much harder than I was expecting, but within a few contractions out came the lamb!!
I cleared off the nose & mouth & we rubbed the lamb down roughly with hay, but the lamb was still not breathing. Margot told me to pick it up by the back legs & swing the lamb. I had done this before with kittens & puppies when vet nursing, to try & clear all the fluid from the lungs & you have to be fairly rough to ‘flick’ the fluid out, but trying to do it with a long floppy lamb was a bit harder. I was a bit tentative with the first couple of swings, but then did it harder. We roughed up the lamb again with handfuls of hay & then it started to breath!
I was so happy that I couldn’t stop grinning! A lifelong dream had come true. I got to help bring a little life into the world & all was well!
A few days later & we were fairly sure Hattie was in early labour. We moved her into the barn & I agreed to check her at 3am. When I got there she had a big water bag poking out, so I called Margot to let her know. She advised that we leave her to it & just keep checking, but I knew I would not be able to sleep with the excitement, so agreed that I would sit back quietly & watch from afar.
After another 15 minutes I crept over to see if she was any further progress, as she had had a few big contractions, but there was not much more poking out & now the bag was partly full of blood too. She was laying down now too & I felt that if she stood the lamb would likely slip out, but Margot has coached us to be very hands off as interfering can cause problems due to stress, so I waited a little longer. I went in & got her standing & sure enough the lamb, in a bag of blood slipped out. I instantly broke the bag, cleared the airways & roughed the lamb up & then started to swing it, but I knew in my heart that it was all useless, but I carried on for awhile longer before checking for a pulse that was not there.
Margot & Debbie came to join me & we watched from afar as she kept cleaning & calling to the dead lamb, but eventually she gave birth easily to number two & awhile later to number 3 as well. These two lambs were fine & up on their feet pretty quickly & by the end of the next day feeding well. We did have to help Mavis with a bit of mastitis, but within a few days all the lambs were feeding & growing well.
So that was my first experience of actively helping with the lambing. One very happy & one tinged with sadness & doubt, but an overall happy ending.