So yesterday - the first of April - I had an appointment to get my hair cut. It being my day off, I scheduled it for 11:00, the earliest available slot. I slept in a bit, waking to an odd drifting snowfall: sparse, light flakes, floating randomly about in the air - not just downwards toward earth, but upwards, sideways, swirling in invisible eddies in apparent defiance of gravity and other laws of physics. I wondered at first if it was ash fall - Mount Redoubt has been blowing her stack with some regularity for a while now - but outside I caught a flake and inspected it. Nope, snow. Just odd snow.
After getting my hair all buffed and polished in a lovely spa-like atmosphere (the new digs of my hairdresser), I drove home through the random swirl of snow. For some reason - call it a whim, call it a hunch - I went out to Wildwood to check on the proceedings there. As it happened, no one was at home, and there were two fresh lambs down, still wet.
I gathered the towels and sweaters and iodine and went down to tend to matters. There were two ewe lambs, one black and one white, out of my second black ewe, Mesquite. The black one - smaller, but drier - appeared to have been born first. I iodined her umbilical stump and put her in a sweater. The white one, somewhat larger, seemed weaker. She was making a horrible seal-cough and walking on her knuckled fetlocks on the front legs. Well, fresh baby, hasn't had much time yet to get things working; I iodined her and sweatered her and hung about to see what was up.
After an hour I was not sure she'd yet nursed. She'd tried plenty often, but she was having trouble on her front legs, and was often interrupted by her seal-bark cough. I tried holding the ewe and putting the baby on the teat at the same time, but as it turns out I need two more hands for that operation, or else arms approximately 9 feet long. So I went inside and called R on her cell.
R was in Anchorage, but S was on her way home, so I waited until she arrived and changed into her grubbies. In the interim, the white lamb had not improved much; S related to me that she'd thought the ewe would lamb the night before, because she'd been dripping fluid from her vulva. We both wondered if perhaps the white baby had aspirated as a result of a prolonged pre-labor phase, or during the lambing itself.
As it turned out we were unable to get the white lamb to nurse, and the stress of trying to make her do so exacerbated her cough as she shuffled along on her wrists. Reluctantly, I made the decision to pull the lamb for bottle rearing. It's always better to have the mother rear the baby; typically they are way better at it than we are, and there are other considerations, such as the fact that once you begin hand-rearing, your window for returning the baby to the mother is short, and the fact that, should you have to bottle-rear the baby, you can't (unless you are more heartless than I) later slaughter it for food. And then of course there is the consideration that a bottle-baby is a bit of a cramp in one's style, since it needs to be fed repeatedly in the night, and can't be left to fend for itself should you wish to, say, go out to dinner and a movie with your boyfriend. Still, this is a ewe lamb, who has potential future value (if she does well) as a breeding (and possibly dairying) animal. Moreover, it became increasingly apparent through the afternoon that should I not have pulled her, she would have died.
To begin with she wasn't a good suckler; this may have been in part that she was weak and tired and cold, and it may have been in part that her breathing interfered with suckling properly. I managed to get some colostrum (milked the day before off of Silver, she of the singleton ram) into her, but it was slow going. A little later in the evening, when she was dry, I took her sweater back to S&R at Wildwood; after all, if she was going to be living inside, she wouldn't have need of it, and there are 2 ewes and 4 does yet to give birth out there. While there, We gave the baby some fluids subcutaneously, as well as a shot of penicillin, in case of aspiration pneumonia; while anything the baby might have aspirated would be sterile at the time of aspiration (having come from the confines of the uterus), the outside world is most assuredly NOT sterile, so this was something in the way of prophylaxis. Additionally, she was still walking with her front hooves knuckled over, although in all honesty I thought that this was something that would likely straiten out, so long as I could get her to survive her first few days.
A little later in the evening, the baby suddenly seemed to learn something about suckling, and abruptly started to nurse vigorously. She grew fat and round on my lap, going through all the colostrum in a few feedings, becoming somnolent, limp and quiet after the third one. While that is certainly a relief from the fractious, plaintive, incessant and increasingly-frantic bleating of earlier in the evening, it's one of those silences that makes you check to see if she's still breathing. She was; I snuggled her up in a flannel sheet and settled her in. Every so often she would give a congested little wheeze, but for the most part she seemed content, dozing near Pepper's watchful bulk.
This morning she is slightly better, essaying a few awkward hops, following me from room to room on her still slightly bucked-forward legs, bleating in her high-pitched voice. She seems perfectly content to be wearing a diaper - although she dislikes it when I seize her tail and pull it through the hole I cut in her Huggies for this purpose - and, while she doesn't like the milk replacer anything like as well as she did the colostrum (smart girl), she seems reasonably content to drink it. She still develops a worrisome wheeze after drinking for a few moments, but it dissipates quickly; I've checked her for a cleft palate and found none, so I'm not sure what to make of this wheeze just yet.
Meanwhile Ali is both fascinated and terrified of her. Kenzie's main interest in her is a hope to share her bottle. Finn, Raven and Pepper are tightly focused upon her, although Pepper seems inclined to treat her as a combination of sheep and bratty puppy, gnashing her teeth with sharp clicks when the baby ventures too near, and at other times attempting to herd her (usually at inopportune moments, such as during a diaper change). Having been born of a black ewe, the baby seems unfazed by the crowd of large furry black bodies around her; and after all, she has no alternate expectations. This is the world as she knows it, and she has little knowledge of anything else.
One thing is for sure, however: If there was any doubt before, this should convince everyone that I am indeed the world's biggest idiot. This is JUST what I need - another convalescent animal living in my house, and this one not only not house-broken, but also in need of every-four-hourly feedings through the night.
April fool, indeed.