Lambs and Crab Legs
D. E. Larsen, DVM
Gus Johansen came through the clinic door in a rush. His stocking cap was in his hand, and his gray hair was sticking out in every direction. Gus was a large man who came from Norway as a young man. He was a king crab fisherman who had a small sheep ranch a little way out of Enumclaw.
“Doc, I am glad I got you,” Gus said, almost out of breath. “I have a ewe that is ready to lamb. Her insides are pushing out. She is so large, there have to be 3 lambs in there. I have never seen a ewe so large.”
“Sounds like I should get a look at her,” I said. “I haven’t been to your place Gus, can you leave your address, and I can get out there this afternoon.”
“We brought her with us in the little trailer,” Gus said. “I hate to pressure you, Doc, but I have to leave to go fishing tomorrow. I can’t leave this problem for Ella to deal with alone.”
“Okay, pull around back, and we will unload her into one of the large dog runs,” I said. “I will be able to look at her in 20 minutes or so. I have to finish the morning treatments on a couple of dogs in the hospital here. The girls will get her cleaned up during the time.”
I sent Kathy out to help unload the ewe and get her rear end clipped and scrubbed. I was guessing he was talking about a prolapsed vagina. A ewe with large twins or triplets made it almost common for them to prolapse their vagina before delivery. They would just run out of room in their abdomen.
“Boy, your description was pretty close,” I said to Gus as I looked at the ewe. Her entire vagina was prolapsed, with the cervix bulging a little. There was content in this prolapse, maybe the bladder, some intestines, or maybe one of the lambs.
“Gus, it looks like she is pretty close to lambing,” I said. “She is dripping milk, and the mucus plug is gone from the cervix. If we are up against a wall, time-wise, it might be better to just take these lambs with a C-Section. There is a slight risk in doing that, these lambs could be early, and we could have problems saving them.”
“I was hoping you would take them now, Doc,” Gus said. “This is one of Ella’s favorite ewes. The lambs would be nice, but the ewe is our biggest concern. And I am going to be gone for at least 2 weeks. I want to make sure Ella doesn’t have to deal with this.”
“You have my home number,” I said. “Ella can call me any time if she has problems while you are gone. She needs to know that I am okay with her calling.”
Gus went back to the car to discuss the decision with Ella. This would make a busy morning for me, but it will be better than working with a hysterical Ella at midnight.
“I think we want you to do a C-Section, Doc,” Gus said. “Can you do that now?”
“Yes, we will do it right now,” I said. “I will only use local anesthesia, so she will be able to go home just about any time after we are done. If you and Ella want to stay and watch, that is fine.”
“Oh, no, you don’t want her here,” Gus said, jerking his head toward Ella in the car. “We will go home and do a few chores and get set up for a couple of lambs. Will you be done by noon?”
“This is not going to take me very long,” I said. “And I am going to get started right away. And Gus, my guess is there are 3 lambs.”
“That will be nice,” Gus said. “She is a good momma, but we might have to bummer one them. That will keep Ella busy while I am gone.”
“So, let’s get a surgery pack, towels, and a drape, gloves, and some Lidocaine,” I said to Kathy as Gus and Ella backed the trailer around so they could leave.
We rolled the ewe on her back and clipped and prepped her belly. I planned and ventral midline incision right in front of her udder.
It was quite a sight with her on her back. She had one large belly.
C-Sections on ewes are usually a snap. With the ventral midline approach, the lambs are within easy reach. The surgery is often brief.
With everything set up and the incision site blocked with Lidocaine, I made the incision. The incision was complicated by a large milk vein coursing its tortuous path right up the midline. I would have to dodge it through the entire procedure.
One lamb kicked me as soon as I entered the abdomen. I pulled his head up out of the incision and incised the uterus over his head. Grabbing him behind the ears, I pulled him out. He was shaking his head before I even let go of him.
I found another lamb in the same uterine horn as soon as I reached back into the uterus. I grabbed him by the hind legs and pulled him out of the same uterine incision. By now, we had all the girls from the office out to take a lamb as I handed him off.
I explored this right horn of the uterus to make sure there was not another lamb there. Sometimes I found it easier to make a second incision on the opposite uterine horn, but this time there was plenty of room to reach the left side. I immediately ran into the head of the third lamb.
“I knew there would be three of them with the size of this belly,” I said as I extracted the third lamb.
“You better check for another one,” Kathy said. “You know what happened to Dr. Jack a while back.”
I smiled as I handed off the third lamb.
“Yes, I will check, but the odds against having 4 lambs are pretty high.”
I ran my hand into the depths of the left uterine horn, trying to remove some of the membranes. And then this guy kicked me. I looked at Kathy and smiled.
“There is another one!” She said. “Can I have it? Please! Ella will be too busy with 3. They will never suspect there were 4.”
“Kathy, you know we could never do that,” I said as I pulled the 4th lamb out of the incision. “I would never be able to talk to Gus with a straight face.”
With all the pulling and tugging on the lambs, the vaginal prolapse had corrected itself.
“She is going to have so much room in this belly she won’t know what to do with it,” I said.
I closed the four-inch uterine incision with number 2 Dexon and the linea alba with the same suture, using a sliding mattress on the linea alba. After closing the skin, she was ready to go.
We rolled her over onto her side, and she just kept on going and landed on her feet. She immediately turned her attention to the lambs.
“You go in and give Gus a call,” I said to Kathy.
“They said they had chores to do,” Kathy said.
“That was just so they wouldn’t have to watch,” I said. “Ella will be home sitting by the phone. I bet it won’t ring twice.”
I was right, of course. Gus and Ella pulled into the driveway in less than 10 minutes. They were all smiles when they got out of the car. And then they noticed that there were 4 lambs.
“There were 4 lambs, and they are not tiny ones,” Gus said as Ella opened the gate and went in to hug the ewe and look at the lambs.
“Do you think she can raise all 4 lambs?” Ella asked.
“I would sure let her give it a try,” I said. “You might need to supplement them with a bottle, but they will benefit from being with mom. Supplement them with a little milk replacer and get them eating some pellets early; they will do better than if you make a bummer out of one or two of them.”
“Give me a call when you get home, Gus,” I said. “I will run out then and take the sutures out of her. It might be a day or two before she passes her membranes. You have Ella give me a call if she has any concerns about how things are going.”
“Oh, we brought you a bag of a little something and a bag for the girls, also,” Ella said as she retrieved a couple of full grocery bags from the back seat.
They loaded up and headed home as one happy group.
I looked in the bags as they pulled out of the driveway, two bags stuffed full of frozen king crab legs.
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