Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bella's Baby Blues

last night was hard. i shed some tears and am still extremely tense. friends who are boarding bella and button called. bella's showing signs of birth/labor, but there's no baby. we went over immediately and sure enough there was string of gunk hanging out indicating that her water had broken. the sheep are extremely skiddish. we stood in the pasture with a flashlight on her from 20' away and watched her contract and push... or at least i think she was pushing. that went on for 20 min or so. then we left the pasture but stayed outside. i fed the baby and watched, wondering what to do. it had been a long time. was she culled from this big sheep farm because the farmer saw something that i don't know? i got really concerned- with our goats, when they start pushing the baby comes right out. me too. the body does the work until the very end. if there's pushing with no baby, something is likely tangled up. So we went back in, this time forming a human wall with the 5 able bodies we had, and slowly crept in on them (this was after several minutes of them running frantically before we had our act together). We cornered them and caught Bella, got a collar around her, and held her down. I then gloved up and...

Stop reading here if you're squimish.

... went in. I immediately found feet. I pulled them out some, determined they were front feet then went looking for the head. That was a mess. I was all in there and completely unable to detect a head for quite some time. I finally did find it, but couldn't get it lined up. This is where I started crying. Bella, it seemed, had given up. She laid there doing nothing. No contractions, no pushing, nothing. I felt the baby move so was moderately encouraged yet at the same time, knowing this baby needed out. Farmer Hub gave it a go and too, would find the head, line it up, go to pull then lose the head again. He and I traded places again. We didn't know what to do. Who do you call at 9pm on a Friday night? We're not country enough for anyone to really know more than me... not that I'm an expert. My summers on a dairy farm is all I really knew about birthing livestock... and this sheep was not behaving like a cow. Everything would seem lined up fine, but when we'd start to pull, Bella's bones would close up tight and not let the head into the birth canal. She'd close up so tight that I could barely get my hand out. I started to really get scared. Finally, our friend called a friend just to get advice. That advice was to line it up as best as we could and leave her alone. She was scared and stressed and that was causing the pinch. So that's what we did. As soon as we took off the collar and stepped away she was up and running. We cleaned up some and sat in their living room for a stretch while one read online about lambing problems. We then remembered we still needed to do our 3rd milking for the day. The kids, on the other hand were having a great time playing with our friends' kids. Farmer Girl could have been left behind and wouldn't have missed me at all.

Me being rather emotionally spent, Farmer Hub did the milking while I got kids clean and tucked into bed. I kept praying for a call that all was well. None came.

This morning I woke up rather early, my back and neck screaming from the stress and tension. It was a couple hours later when we heard anything... and that was still no different. Right now she's laboring and pushing hard. She's laying down and working. Everyone is giving her space. We were supposed to bring the sheep home today anyway so, basically, we've made the decision that if the baby's not out by afternoon, we'll bring her home, put a bullet in her head and do our best at a quick c-section. If she can't deliver naturally, we really can't keep her anyway. We would butcher her and fill our already full freezer with mutton.

This is an extremely tough call. But I don't know what else to do. Even if we called in a vet, we would have to deal with the fact that she's not able to deliver... or at least that's all we know of her. How many attempts do you allow a ewe to do before she's culled? Oddly enough, I feel much better with this plan than when I was digging around, elbow deep and not having a clue what to do. I came home beating myself up thinking the stress of catching her and feeling her was what did her in, and maybe so, but I think, more realistically, that we really did make the best decision and have the best plan we can think off.

And we just continue to pray that her body will open and allow her to push out this lamb. I'll be happy if either of them, mama or baby, survives at this point.

And here's the update... when we got there this afternoon, I knew immediately that the lamb was dead. There's an unmistakable smell and once you've smelled it, you never forget it. I was immediately transported back to one of my first days on the farm where a c-section was needed to get out a stuck twin. They had me assist the vet... probably to see what the city-girl could handle. The calf came out badly deformed, grotesque and unmistakably dead. Same smell today. We caught Bella pretty quickly and given that I could barely get my hand in, I know she was worse off now than last night. We brought her and Button home. Button was set free in the pasture and is doing rather well with the goats already. Bella... was put out of her misery as quickly as possible. This is where I asked my husband if I needed to be tough or could I wuss out. He and our friend gave me permission to busy myself elsewhere. So I left to buy ice just as the shot was fired. I busied myself milking while the baby was pulled out. I went to the neighbor's to retrieve the kids while they butchered her.

I've shed a lot of tears now, for a baby who was supposed to live, for a mother who was supposed to nurture. Though hind site says we should have made the tough call last night, I would never want to do so that quickly. I don't think I would have done anything differently. That helps my own emotions some but I still have 2 dead animals. I can just hope for better for Button, who actually is much smaller. I picked out Bella (and our friends' Valentine) because they looked bigger, older, like they were proven mothers. I chose Button because she looked younger and would have more years in her. But I do specifically remember at the breeding ewe show at the county fair, the judge discussing the wideness of the hips. I thought I was watching for that too, but maybe there's more to look for than just how wide apart their legs are when standing.

Its the end of a very sad story. One more class in the school of hard knocks.

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