No Room in the Inn

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

I hadn’t been watching the clock and was a little surprised when Debbie Walk came through the door a half-hour late. That was unusual for her, and it usually meant she had a problem.

“What’s up today?” I asked.

“I have a ewe, Becky, that I am keeping out at Darlene’s, and she is close to lambing,” Debbie said. “She has been getting large, and this morning Becky has a vaginal prolapse. I mean, the whole thing is hanging out.”

“That probably means she has a pair of large twins or maybe triplets,” I said. “Do you want to take one of those paddles to try on her?”

“This is the biggest prolapse I have seen,” Debbie said. “I think I would feel better if you checked her.”

“It looks like you picked a good day to do it,” I said. “If we hurry through the morning surgeries, we should have time to run out and check her.”

Debbie had Becky in a small pen in Darlene’s old barn. There were few windows in the barn, and the only light came from the open door and a single light bulb.

Becky was up, stomping her hind feet and turning circles. Debbie’s assessment was correct. The entire vagina prolapsed, with the cervix bulging at the end of the prolapse. The mucus plug was still present in the cervix, and it had collected more than its share of straw and debris.

Debbie tied Becky to a corner of the pen, and I started cleaning the prolapse.

“I think this is a good time to clip some wool from her rear end,” I said. “It will make things easier to keep clean. With the looks of this prolapse, we might be struggling with it for a few days.”

After clipping the wool away from her vulva and inner hind legs, I finished washing the prolapse. Then I applied a lot of J-Lube.

“Judging from the size of his gal, I am guessing she has triplets in there,” I said. “These gals just run out of room in their belly.”

I carefully started pushing the prolapse back into place. Becky strained hard against my efforts, but finally, I had the vagina back where it belonged.

“Now, the secret is to keep it there,” I said as I slowly withdrew my arm from her vagina.

Plop! The whole thing popped out again.

“This is going to be a struggle, Debbie,” I said. “Do you have a breeding date on this gal?”

“No, but she is the last of my ewes to lamb,” Debbie said. “She has to be close.”

I stripped her teats, and she had plenty of milk.

“Okay, I will replace this again, and we will put a retainer in and hope it holds things together,” I said. “If it doesn’t, we probably should be talking about a C-section.”

I replaced the vagina, inserted a plastic retainer in the vagina, and tied the ends to the wool. 

“The makers of these gadgets say the ewe can lamb with these in place, but I have seen lambs get hung up in them,” I said. “You are going to have to watch her close.”

We cleaned up and returned to the clinic. After getting the truck squared away, it was time for lunch.

“I am going to run out and check on Becky during lunch,” Debbie said. “I have been thinking, if she continues to have problems, let’s just plan to do a C-section. I can’t live in that barn for the next three or four days.”

It wasn’t long, and Debbie was backing up her trailer to the front of the clinic. I went out and helped her bring Becky into the back of the clinic. The prolapse was entirely out again, and the retained was flapping in the breeze.

“That didn’t last very long,” I said.

“No, I think I’m ready for you to do a C-section,” Debbie said.

“We might be a day or two early, but she isn’t going to go on this way,” I said. “We have a little time before the afternoon rush. Let’s just do it now.”

We got things set up in the back of the clinic and rolled Becky onto her back. There was no need to prop her up. Her belly was large enough that it hung to the floor on both sides.

Debbie clipped and prepped Becky’s belly. I threw a knee pad on the concrete floor and kneeled on Becky’s right side. I had trouble getting close enough to be in a comfortable position to make a midline incision.

“There have to be three big lambs in here,” I said as I made an incision on Becky’s midline, just in front of her udder.

C-sections in ewe are usually simple. With a ventral midline incision, it is easy to pull the uterus up so it can be incised outside of the abdomen. I pulled the omentum forward and reached into the belly to explore the uterus. 

The uterus was too large to pull up to the incision. I grabbed the head of one lamb through the wall of the uterus and pulled it outside the incision. I incised the uterus over this lamb’s head, and the head popped out and shook. I extracted the lamb, clamped and severed the cord, and handed it to Debbie.

“Boy, he is an active one,” Debbie said as the lamb shook in her hands.

I reached into the uterus and grabbed the hind legs of another lamb. This lamb came out through the incision, kicking and shaking his tail.

“Is there another one?” Debbie asked.

“I am sure there must be. Both of these were from the right uterine horn,” I said as I reached into the uterus and reached to the left side. I grabbed two legs and gave a tug. There was some movement, but nothing came easily. I went further and swept my hand from side to side. There were two lambs.

“Debbie, there are two more lambs,” I said.

“Oh, my gosh!” Debbie said. “Have you seen quads before?” 

“Once in a ewe and once in a goat,” I said. “Explains the prolapse. There was simply no more room in the inn.”

I closed things on Becky, and Debbie had the lambs cleaned up and on their feet. Becky rolled up on her sternum and licked on the lambs as Debbie put them in front of her, one at a time.

“Do you think I should make bummers out of a couple of them?” Debbie asked.

“You have to feed them if they are bummers,” I said. “I would leave them with mom and just supplement them as needed. They will learn things from mom they will never learn as a bummer. Sheep things, you know.”

“How will I know which ones to feed?” Debbie asked.

“Feed the hungry ones,” I said. “They will sort things pretty soon. There will probably be one who is pushed aside most of the time. But leaving them with mom is best if you can manage things.” 

“Do I need to do anything with Becky?” Debbie asked.

“Just keep her in a few days,” I said. “We can run by and check her in a couple of days. She will have a lot of membranes to pass, and we want to ensure that incision stays together before we turn her out.”

Debbie loaded the lambs into the trailer, and then Becky followed along. They will be happy to be back in their barn.

Becky passed her membranes that evening and her incision healed with no problems. The four lambs did well, and with Debbie’s supplemental feedings, you couldn’t tell any difference between them.

Photo by Jaemin Don on Unsplash.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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