Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Fool

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.

17 comments:

Karl Katzke said...

But what would the world be like without fools?

MaskedMan said...

Yeah, well, who could resist, anyway..? You'll curse yourself a hundred times over, but the next time 'round, you'll do the same again.

Beth K said...

I think you need a live by nurse nanny - wish I was in Alaska!

You jinxed yourself writing about the goat you raised in your house awhile back! Someone knew that your loyal readers, us, would want another great story from you!!

Good luck! I have my fingers crossed for all of your furry babies, momma's and puppies!!

Holly said...

But..but...but...you could not just let her die! What heartless soul could ever do that? Besides, once she gets a little more mature she might just be your best lamb.

I've not had any contact with sheep except for one incredibly bad experience in a herding instinct test, so I have a question.

When foals are born, they are all "folded" up...their legs and joints are not straight, but as they walk and play and move, the weight and movement begins to lengthen out their ligaments and tendons (most of the time). Is this true of lambs too? Are their little legs not quite straight and maybe more than "not quite" at birth?

Bill Fosher said...

My feelings about bottle lambs are no secret. I priced milk replacer last week as I went about laying in my lambing supplies, and *phew!* over $2 per pound. A typical bottle lamb will need more than $100 in milk replacer to get to weaning this year.

At this rate, I'll be able to afford airline tickets for the light poxes to send them all up to Alaska.

AKDD said...

KK, luckily we won't have to find out. I'm still here, filling the quota.

MM - you're right, curse you. I'll do the same next time.

Beth K - come on by any time - or maybe go help Bill with HIS bottle babies. :-D (Oh, and the Gumby stories were about another lamb, actually.)

Holly - you're right, I CAN'T just let them die. You have to try. It's not in me to walk away - it's not even in BILL to walk away ;-) (no matter how curmudgeonly he might try to be about it). Truthfully, it's easier for me, whose livelihood doesn't depend on them, than it is for him; for me it's not an economic equation, but for a real sheepman - well, it has to be part of the picture. Oh, and to answer your question, most of them straiten out faster than this one did, but the reason I was confident she WOULD straiten out (as she has) is because yes, they can get sort of folded up in the corners of the uterus, and have a little functional contracture at birth, which soon resolves.

Bill, I feel your pain - sort of - but maybe it'd be cheaper to mail them to Beth! :-D I'm hoping not to have more bottle babies this year, but one never knows. Meanwhile, it may be that in the future I can dairy off this lamb; she'll be well-used to handling, at any rate, and nothing like as skittish as my other ewes. We shall see. She still has to make it out of infancy, a task by no means guaranteed to meet with success.

Holly said...

"I can dairy off this lamb"

what is *dairy off*?

Della said...

I'd end up doing the same blamed thing, so at least you're not the only fool out there (and neither am I.) lol I wish you the best in getting enough rest!

AKDD said...

Holly, I meant "dairy from", as in milk her (use her for a dairy sheep). Sheep milk is 5x as high in protein per pound as cow's milk, and they're more efficient converters of feed... plus it's organic, since I will know what I put into it. And sheep cheese.... yum!

Della, she's actually been pretty good, if I feed her up big before bedtime... she woke me only twice last night. We shall see how she does tonight, though. It might not be too bad, if I can train her to sleep most of the night.

Holly said...

"Sheep milk is 5x as high in protein per pound as cow's milk, and they're more efficient converters of feed.."

wow. If they were bigger, cows might be out!

AKColleen said...

Nice punch line! I enjoy talking to my mom (S) then reading your posts, hearing about going-ons from both of you. I get a lot more detail from you!

They have the lambs on the campus farm right now, they are so cute! I *almost* miss them at home... Well, I miss watching the lambs, not dealing with the ewes, though..

AKDD said...

Holly - AND, with sheep, you get wool (and/or sheepskin). At least, you do with the kind I have. My ram has nice enough fleece to please the hand-spinner crowd, a notoriously picky group. (This is partly because my ram seems to magically repel all vegetable matter from his fleece, unlike the ewes, who seem to attract it out of all proportion to the amount present in the environment.)

AK Colleen - the lambs ARE precious. There's nothing as cute as a newborn lamb. Even the baby goats - cunning as they are - are not as cute, lacking (as they do) little silky knots of wool all over their bodies. If you find you need an adorableness fix, I'm SURE your family would not mind you coming up for in-person lamb cuddling - I volunteer to supply the lambs!

goatgirl said...

I am raising three bottle lambs now. Two orphans and one little ewe that was pulled off her mother. There is nothing cuter but when I went to buy their replacer I was shocked! The price has gone up in the last thirty years-that was the last time I bought it. No wonder the sheep farmer was glad to get rid of them to a fool like me.
I have especially enjoyed watching the differences in them and the goat kids. They play so much different. The lambs are like little Lipizzaners and the kids are one big rodeo.
Enjoy the baby...you know you love it!

Carole said...

Please update soon, with photos if possible! I would love to hear how she's doing.

DeltaBluez Tess said...

Hey Doc,
Can you ping me off the blog. I have a ? that you would have the answer for (not vet related but dog related)

Diane

I need orange said...

Hope you are "just busy" rather than any unpleasant alternatives.

Dana - World by the Tail, Inc. said...

Hey VetOnTheEdge!

What you did for this little girl shows that you have one of the world's biggest hearts rather than being one of the world's biggest idiots! I mean really...what choice did you have? Is a baby lamb's wool as soft as you imagine it to be? Just curious!