Friday, June 30, 2017
Laura Longtail's lambing story
Brad and I were finishing prep for a class that another coach was going to hold at our ranch-including evening chores and moving the sheep and their dogs to pasture 3.
The coach arrived along with one student and the guardian dogs were barking up a storm. I passed Brad in our work and he said quietly, "We're missing a mama sheep." Three ewes and their lambs were nearby but I didn't see Laura Longtail. I looked way out in the pasture and could see her standing completely still out in the middle of the tall grass. That was odd. Tess and Duke saw her and went barreling toward her. They stopped about 50 feel from her and became statues themselves--tails high and stiff.
By that time I was walking out because it all felt really weird. As I got closer I realized that Laura Longtail's tail was sticking straight out. Huh. She started walking toward me and as she got closer I saw her udder was huge and the teats were bright pink! Wha?? She passed me and I saw what the problem was, there was a lamb, stuck. It's nose, part of his muzzle, and one foot.
We didn't even know she was pregnant.
Laura Longtail is a first time mom.
I called our friend Nancy and asked her for advice. She said not to worry too much, sometimes stuck lambs can survive. She said to find the other foot, pull it out, pull the lamb out, swing it by it's back legs and give chest compressions if needed.
I called Brad out to the field and with some tricky maneuvering we were able to get the flock and their dogs out of the pasture while keeping Laura Longtail in. Brad caught and wrestled Laura Longtail onto the ground and I got to work. I was able to just fit half of my right hand inside, right next to the lamb's head--what a tight squeeze! In a few minutes I found the lamb's other hoof and using her contractions was able to get the foot out. With a few short pushes by Laura Longtail, the baby lamb slid out onto the ground. No heartbeat. I quickly scooped him up and swung him (a ram lamb) by his back legs, trying to get things moving along. All I could think of was, "Come on little lamb, please survive." Placing him back on the ground and still no heartbeat, I did chest compressions. Nothing. I tried swinging and chest compressions one more time. Still nothing. Sigh.
Okay. This is the hard part of ranching.
Brad brought the flock back in, they went out to graze, and I brought the lamb up to his mom's head and she began licking him. This was the saddest part. I wasn't sure how long to leave him with her. Do I take him away? Do I wait until he's clean and dry? I decided to wait and sat down next to her. Tess, their livestock guardian dog, waited with me--laying on the other side of the fence, holding space for us all. She was very calm and her calm seeped into me. Laura Longtail gently cleaned her baby for about five minutes. She stopped to look at him for a moment and then placed one of her nostrils directly onto one of his. Waited. A few seconds passed and she repeated it. She breathed. He didn't. She slowly got to her feet and walked away, back to the flock.
As a child and into adulthood I've always loved the James Herriot books. Living on this ranch, one of my dreams was to assist an animal giving birth. I'm so glad I could save Laura Longtail. I'm sad I couldn't save her lamb.