Friday, January 15, 2010


I am batting one thousand this week in terms of blowing off obligations. So far, I have managed to miss two piano lessons, an orthodontist's appointment and the monthly church Altar Guild luncheon. (Poor Altar Guild. I seem to blow it off more than anything else these days, and that's really saying something.) I blame the fact that my 2010 calendar didn't arrive until a week ago, and those boxes are still distressingly empty.

Yes, we are in the Dark Ages: our lives still revolve around a paper calendar hanging on the wall of our kitchen. No blackberries in this house, apart from the ones we find growing wild in the hedgerow.

I found out about the Altar Guild luncheon completely by accident, when I ran into another guild member at Primo's make-up orthodontist appointment. When she reminded me where I was supposed to be earlier that day, I realized that I had a genuine excuse this time in addition to my normal forgetfulness:

At the time, my hand was up a sheep's hoo-ha, trying desperately to deliver stuck lambs from a ewe that was well on her way to giving up on life altogether.

She wasn't one of ours; she belonged to another 4-H family. As with most sheep operations I know of, ours included, their lambing seasons had followed a predictable pattern. The first year was deceptively easy. Almost every time they did a check in the barn, the new little lambs had been born without fuss or bother, and were up and nursing away, already cleaned and dried off by their mothers. This produced a false sense of "well, this isn't so hard!" as it does in us all. The next year (last year) was slightly more difficult. A set of triplets that had to be stomach tubed and kept in the house for a couple of days to get them going; a couple of cases of mastitis; but nothing that wasn't manageable.

This year, unfortunately, has been a nightmare with two of their pregnant ewes prolapsing (basically, pushing out bits of themselves that have no business being out in the open air). The husband was a cowman and so has been able to construct trusses to keep the bits back in where they belong, but the ewes have been confined to keep them from doing it again. This is never ideal so close to lambing; more straightforward births tend to come out of ewes that are forced to move around. Added to the prolapses, we were all holding our collective breath and hoping for the best. That's not what we got in the case of yesterday's laboring ewe. I received the call as I was volunteering in kindergarten; with 45 minutes to spare until I had to take Terzo and a playdate friend off the bus, I flew into barn clothes and over to see if I could help.

The only way to "see" what is going on, of course, is to get up close and personal with the ewe and her inner organs. We had two legs and a head in the birth canal; why, oh why, was nothing happening, and no amount of help or pulling producing any results? My efforts were no more successful than previous attempts and the prolapse and a very tight fit weren't helping matters. It took the vet to figure out that it was two different lambs in the canal -- the legs did not belong to the same lamb -- and she finally managed to sort them and get them out before the poor ewe threw in the towel. The lambs weren't alive, unfortunately, but we suspected that at the time because their wool was starting to fall out. But we still had to get them out of the ewe.

I didn't go into the gory details with the inquiring guild member. (I save those things for the blog!) I just explained that I was dealing with stuck lambs at a friend's farm, and it had been quite a stressful afternoon with an unfortunate outcome. After listening to my story, she inquired "Where were they stuck? A fence?" and I realized that my frame of reference is so different from other people's that it never occurred to me that I would have to explain what I meant by stuck, especially this time of year. I tested my theory on Secondo, asking him "where do lambs get stuck?" and he came right back with "in the mom" as if he didn't understand why I would toss him such a no-brainer.

So it's not just me that hears the words "lambs stuck" and immediately conjures up visions of prep soap, o.b. lube and exploratory groping. But I do understand that it is a minority viewpoint, and the rest of the world is no doubt grateful of that fact.


  1. been there did that for over twenty years. After I had experienced every malpresentaion in Paula Simmons book, I figured it was time to stop breeding I had done it all!
    Love the lambs forget the drama.
    Wondering as to the breed of the 4 hr's flock. Also the length of their tail docking. Take too much tail off and there is a problem with the muscle structure up there.
    Also, if the girls did it one time they probably are not good candidates for breeding stock. Not good news for a kid.

  2. I think it was near the end of our local "sheep management" class that we studied all the ways it can go crazy in that tiny space. My reaction was the same as when our childbirth / midwife coach went over different possible scenarios: I do not think I'm ready for this. Thankfully my daughters were born ok and I got angora rabbits instead of sheep! Though I do still daydream about a handful of shetlands now and again.

    Hope you have a great lambing season and don't have any "stuck."