D. E. Larsen, DVM
When I turned off the highway onto Liberty Road, my headlights flashed across a field that was white with a heavy frost.
“It’s going to be a cold one tonight,” I said to myself as I corrected for a slight skid of the truck’s rear end. “At least Scott Mountain Road will be gravel.”
Pat had said the ewe was in the barn. It won’t be heated, but it will be out of the wind.
If I had a call for dystocia in a backyard ewe, I could figure it would be a simple problem. Pat has been sheep ranching for many years. When she has trouble delivering lambs, it is probably a major problem.
I slowed down for the last mile of pavement and made the turn onto Scott Mountain Road with care. The gravel surface was welcome, and it will make the twist on turns on this mountain road a lot safer than if it was paved.
Pat was waiting on her front porch when I pulled into her driveway.
“You will have to park here,” Pat said. “In this weather, you can’t get closer to the barn.”
The cold wind stung my bare arms when I stepped from the truck. I reached into the truck and grabbed my fleece jacket to wear to and from the barn.
I filled a bucket of warm water and grabbed my OB bag.
“Lead the way, Pat,” I said. “Tell me what’s going on with this gal as we walk.”
“I noticed her with a bubble hanging out of her just before dinner tonight,” Pat said. “We ran her into the barn, got her in a pen, and then went and ate dinner. Nothing had happened when we checked her after dinner. I cleaned her up, like you always show me how to do, and ran my hand into her. All I could feel was a bunch of legs. I felt around awhile, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so we figured you needed something to do tonight.”
Pat’s barn was old, and the siding boards were weathered to a steel gray. Pat pushed the door open for me, guided me through it with her flashlight beam, and followed me into the barn.
“Things are a bit cluttered in here,” Pat said. “When you get a little older, there is always something left to do, but the days are just too short.”
Sheep barns were always a bit of a wonder for me. There seemed to be pens everywhere, and there was no specific order to their arrangement.
“She is way in the back of the barn,” Pat said. “You follow me, and I will try to keep the light so both of us can see.”
The barn was only slightly warmer than the outside. Most of the pens were empty, so there was no body heat from the sheep to warm things up. The best thing was we were out of the wind.
I stepped over the fence into the pen, and Pat put a halter on the ewe. I took off my fleece jacket and tossed it over to a couple of hay bales.
After washing up the ewe, I got down on my knees behind the ewe and ran a well-lubed bare hand into her birth canal. As I pushed through the cervix, I ran into a bunch of legs.
It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on. Then I counted legs.
“I count five legs right here,” I said. “That means we have twins, at least.”
“Twins are great,” Pat said. “But don’t try to tell me that there are triplets.”
“First thing, I need to find a head or a butt,” I said. “Then I can get one of them out of the way and then figure out what’s left.”
I reached deeper into the right side of the uterus and found a tail. I stuck a finger in the butt, and it cinched down on my finger.
“At least there is one of them alive,” I said as I gathered up the hind legs associated with the tail. Once I jiggled the other lambs out of the way, I pulled the hind legs and pelvis of the lamb into the birth canal. With a pull, I delivered the lamb in a posterior presentation.
The lamb landed in the straw and shook his head. Pat quickly dips his umbilical cord in iodine and gives him a Bo-Se injection. Then we shoved him up to momma’s nose. She immediately started licking the new lamb, even as I went back for the next one.
I reached into the left side of the uterus and found another bunch of legs. I fished through these legs and found a head. Grabbing the head like I would grab a baseball, I pulled the head up to the birth canal. Then finding the correct set of front legs, I pulled her with simple traction.
“I think there is one more, Pat,” I said as I pushed her over to the edge of the pen so Pat could take care of it.
“I don’t get triplets very often,” Pat said. “Do you see them much?”
“Triplets are uncommon for me, but I have seen quite a few in sheep, a few in goats, and one set in a cow,” I said. “I have seen three sets of quads, two in ewes and one in a goat.”
“Quads sound like a chore,” Pat said. “I would think you would have to bummer one or two of them.”
“They take a little extra work, but I had them leave them all with their mothers and just supplement them with a little extra milk,” I said. “That worked out well for all of them.”
I reached into the ewe, and the third lamb was lined up, ready to get out of there. Had I talked a little longer, momma would have pushed him. One little tug and he was out.
“I have always heard that in twins with mixed sexes, the females are sterile,” Pat said. “But that doesn’t seem to be a problem with lambs.”
“Yes, it is almost always a problem in cattle, but it’s rare in sheep,” I said. “It probably occurs less than one percent of the time in sheep.”
The lambs were shivering when I stepped out of the pen, and my wet arm was suddenly icy.
“You might need to rig up a heat lamp for this bunch tonight,” I said. “It is going to get pretty cold tonight.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Pat said. “We don’t have electricity in this old barn. But there is an outlet in the shed behind the house. I will have to string a couple of extension cords together, but I think it will be fine.”
I washed up with the warm water in my bucket that was no longer warm, I pulled on my fleece jacket, and it felt a little warm. The truck heater is going to feel good.
It was several weeks later when Pat stopped by the clinic.
“You should see those lambs,” Pat said. “They are growing so fast and doing so well. I am so glad for your suggestion of leaving them all with mom. I had to supplement them a little for the first couple of weeks, but that was all. I would be feeding a bummer for another month.”
Photo by Matt Brown on Pexels.