So, I have a bottle baby. A bummer lamb.
A bottle lamb causes most shepherds to clinch and suck in air through clenched teeth. Why? Well, there has to be some sort of bad story behind the bottle lamb. For some reason this baby doesn’t have a mother, which means that either the mother rejected the baby or the mother died. Neither of these options are good. Secondly, the general prognosis for bottle babies is not good. Not good at all.
In this case the mom died. It was a good day, but a very bad night here at the farm. It all started well enough. Juliet, the ewe, gave birth to McNulty on a Friday afternoon. The weather was great! He looked great! She looked great! When I found them in the pasture, she had already cleaned him up and he was latched on and nursing and jumping around like a five day old.
When the lambs are born, I bring the mom and the lamb inside for their first evening for a quasi-spa day or two. The moms get extra feed (they just gave birth for heavens sake) and they don’t have to compete with the rest of the flock for food. The mom gets a private pug with her own hay, water, and a chance to bond with her lamb(s) without outside interference. Usually, I keep them in the spa barn for 24 hours for a singleton, and 48 hours for twins. On the day after the lamb is born, I do a post parturition check on the mom, make sure everything looks good, and tag, weigh, and document the lambs. It also gives the lambs some time to get their feet under them, because they’re pretty unsteady at first. If they look good after the time is up, I put them back on pasture. If not, the spa stay is extended until they seem ready to return to the flock.
So, when I say McNulty looked great, I mean he looked really great and was not wobbling around like a normal newborn. I had trouble catching him to get him inside the evening he was born.
The next morning I did a post parturition check on Juliet and her famacha scores were so high that I thought they could go right back to the pasture as soon as I tagged and weighed McNulty. The weather was beautiful and all looked good, except one thing. Juliet still had some lingering discharge. Now, that’s not really unusual, and some ewes are quicker than others to expel the afterbirth. Ewes can have a lingering discharge for a while, so I decided not to worry because she didn’t present any other problems.
When I checked on her later in the day, she was down. And, I mean down. She was lying down, but with her head up, and flies were swarming all around the still-kinda-hanging-there bloody discharge. So, I start scrambling and trying to get her into the barn and she really doesn’t want to move. And, she’s really heavy.
Texted the vet. Sometimes it takes him a while to get back to me so I wanted to get that ball rolling.
We went through about an hour of me trying to coax her inside away from the flies (there was a blow fly and, well, that’s another story, but blow flies are REALLY bad for sheep). No text from the vet and he is usually really responsive. Run get scissors and trim the bloody stuff coming out of her to try to get the flies away and spray her with fly spray.
Seriously, blow flies are SO BAD.
Finally called the vet instead of texting and his message said that he’s out of town and that all clients should call the Vet School (Auburn) for emergencies.
Called Auburn and navigated through the phone stuff until I get the on-call resident who is going to page the on-call vet who will call me back. And, this whole time I’m trying to get her in to the barn and now she’s down on the ground and won’t get up. And, of course, it’s feeding time and all of the other animals are carrying on about that. Except the ewes. They seemed to know that one of their own was down and this was no time to complain.
So, put the boom pole on the tractor and the sling on the boom pole and go pick her up, check her and make sure she’s not in discomfort, and carry her into the barn and get her into a clean stall with the baby.
Will she eat? A little.
Will she drink? A little.
Will she stand now? Yes.
These are things that make me optimistic.
The on call vet calls and I tell him what’s going on. He asks if I can do a vaginal exam to see if there is a retained baby. And, my heart kinda sinks because I’ve never done that and I don’t want to screw up or hurt her or come to the wrong conclusion based on my inexperience. Also, I experienced a badly torn cervix myself, so the idea of possibly causing that injury to any other living thing is something I can’t seem to get past. So, I call my friend and neighbor farmer Laurie who does have experience, and despite having at least a thousand things to do at her own farm, she simply says, “I’m on my way.” She came quickly and did the exam. She said she thought she felt a little elbow, that it had to be an elbow, but it wasn’t in the right place.
So, I called the vet and told him what Laurie felt and he asked if I could bring her in to the vet school. So, we loaded her, well, mostly Laurie loaded her, and the baby in my car and made the two hour trek to the vet school.
Juliet seemed to enjoy the ride. She stood up and looked out the window of the back seat (yes, farmers carry livestock in their car if they need to). McNulty was getting a little feisty himself and managed to pee an impressive number of times for such a little guy.
They were total pros at Auburn. A whole team met us (it was midnight by that time), got Juliet out and onto a gurney, did a physical exam and an ultrasound within about 15 minutes.
They confirmed Laurie’s opinion that there was another lamb. The vet laid out the options of euthanizing the mother or performing a caesarean. I opted for the caesarean. I knew I probably couldn’t breed her again, but wanted to try to save her anyway. So, they wheel her off, I sign all the papers, and Laurie and I head back on our trip home feeling great that we got her there safely and everything is going to be okay now. We left the little ram lamb, McNulty, there thinking that his mom would want to see him when she came out of surgery.
About an hour into the drive home, the vet called and we were very excited to hear the news, but the news wasn’t what we expected. Juliet died after the anesthesia was administered.
I couldn’t talk.
Laurie had the presence of mind to thank the vet for all of their efforts while I sat there mute. This outcome, like so many things on a farm, was simply not part of the plan. The plan was for Juliet to come back with her healthy twins and be fat and happy eating good grass and forbs and chewing cud in the shade. My mind simply could not reconcile what the vet was telling me with what I had expected. This was all wrong.
And then he asked when I was going to come and pick up McNulty.
~To be continued.~