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.

My niece Hollie, came to check on Mavis & her lambs a couple of days later.

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.

Betty with her first lamb, before the second was born.

Betty with her first lamb, before the second was born.

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.

betty sea

Betty, her babies & the sea view behind her.

Mavis & Hattie

Mavis & Hattie