Thank you to everyone for your very kind comments on my delivery of Mango’s breech lamb. The impression certainly seems to be that I’m a shepherding genius.
This is far, far from the truth. Actually I’m a fool shot through with luck.
Writing in a hurry between unloading a shavings delivery and watching over my next ewe in labor, I left out crucial details.
1. A lot of livestock farmers end up doing their own basic vet care. This is partly because large animal vets are increasingly rare and increasingly expensive (my vet is 45 minutes away so a farm call is $100 before he steps out of his truck).
But it also partly due to the law of numbers. If you’re dealing with two dozen animals — or a hundred — it simply isn’t practical to call the vet with every twinge and worry. So you collect helpful books, and, for me in the case of my cows, lean heavily on the advice of internet friends. Laura Lawson’s Managing your Ewe and Her Newborn Lambs is the go-to book for shepherds because it is loaded with information on every health problem you might possibly encounter at lambing season. Lawson tells you the meds you need and the doses to deliver. The book is often consulted by vets.
2. Looking at Mango lying deathly still with her neck stretched out in the straw I felt a cold clutch of panic. It was obvious something was very wrong. I was scared to death.
3. The two maladies most likely to befall ewes before giving birth are pregnancy toxemia, also called “twin lamb disease,” and hypocalcemia. Both are killers. The year before I took over the school farm, the farmer at the time lost a beautiful ewe and unborn twins to pregnancy toxemia. The farmer even drove the comatose ewe to the vet, but the ewe (and thus the babies inside her) died before being treated. I have been paranoid about it ever since.
Cattle raisers will recognize these metabolic disorders if I use their “cow” names: ketosis and milk fever. The difference in sheep is that because the incidence of multiple births is higher in sheep, each problem is far more likely to strike before, rather than after, delivery.
When I saw Mango’s glazed eyes and shallow breathing I was terrified she was dying of ketosis (pregnancy toxemia).
Katika, my dear cow and very patient instructress, has had ketosis. I knew how to treat it, even without Laura Lawson’s detailed directions. However, I realized in horror, I didn’t have any of the meds on hand.
Of course, there was also a possibility Mango might have milk fever (hypocalcemia). Katika and I have learned through painful experience all about how to treat that deadly problem, too. But — oh, help! I didn’t have any of those meds either!
I was very, very lucky that the issue turned out to be simply a breech birth, involving only a single lamb. Very little thanks to me, Mango dodged a bullet.
Today a friend who is heading to the city an hour away will stop to pick up for me some bottles of calcium gluconate, tubes of cal-mag gel, and a jug of propylene glycol. Next time I’m worried, I’ll be prepared.