Friday, 23 August 2013

Sheep midwifery

Last Friday I did a Sheep Care and Handling course run by the Department of Primary Industries. Today a wet cold and miserable day of drizzly rain, I had to put some of those skills into practise in a life and death situation -  you see today The Lad and I assisted a ewe with a complicated birth.

Normally ewes go off by themselves to lamb, they strain for some time and, if the birth is normal, the little front hooves come out first followed by the head and very soon and often with the helpful wiggling of the lamb, the newborn drops to the ground. Normally the lamb is born with no problems at all.

This morning when we went to check the flock we noticed a ewe up and running with the mob but distressingly with the head of her lamb protruding with no sign of any little hooves. Most crucially, the ewe had given up straining. We assumed the lamb was dead. We knew we had to intervene.

A quick call to the local Vet confirmed our suspicions - that the lamb was not in the correct birthing position, it was possibly dead and if we didn't  manipulate the lamb into the correct position and remove the lamb then the ewe would also die. After some clear instructions from the Vet he reassuringly said, "give it a go first and if you need me I can come out". After supplementing the Vet's instructions with my remembered book knowledge and after summoning up some courage we went into action.

We had a little trouble separating the ewe from the flock and getting her into a corner of the paddock but once we did The Lad very ably caught and held her fast. Secure with The Lad, the ewe was calm and seemed to know we needed to help her.

Thankfully and amazingly the lamb was still alive but in obvious distress. I felt inside the ewe and found one of the lamb's shoulders and then its little leg. It was curled up under the lamb as if it were sitting on the ground. I uncurled it and eased it out of the ewe and then went in search of the other leg. I could not find it at all.

Thankfully the Vet had helpfully mentioned that he had successfully removed lambs with only one leg out and so after a short time I decided not to keep searching and I helped the lamb out pulling it downwards in two firm but gentle movements. Once on the ground, the little lamb struggled to breath. I rubbed its little chest and it spluttered into action. We then introduced the lamb to its mum who nuzzled and licked it and the lamb wiggled.

And then I cried - it was pretty powerful really...

(and then I had a shower - it was also a bit messy!)

Throughout today we have watched the ewe and her little lamb through the binoculars to check on their progress, they are very slowly progressing but they are progressing. It was a difficult birth for them both, it was a big day for us. Let's hope they make it through the night, we will sleep well.

I don't have any pictures of the ewe and lamb in question - we were a little too busy to photograph her and we did not want to disturb her once the lamb was born, so here is another mother and child.


  1. Oh wow. must have been a hugely emotional experience. Well done!

    1. It is hard to describe the feeling really, but I was quite affected for a whole day. Thankfully the two are doing very well now. So much so that the ewe is especially protective and won't let us near at all.

  2. My goodness. Both mum and lamb are lucky to have the two of you around. Well done, I look forward to reading more about them. I expect once the ewe has settled down she may let you nearby again.

    1. The lad first noticed a ewe having difficulty, then we both went into action. It was a big day but successful in the end. They are still doing well but she is still keeping her distance, more than the other ewes.

  3. Well done! How rewarding-trust the outcome continues to have happy endings...



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