How we laughed when I took delivery of the obstetric gauntlets, castration pliers and half a litre of lube. Various ‘Fifty Shades’ jokes and ‘your husband had better behave’ quips ensued. Whilst I’d bought them, it was on the premise of if I have them, I shan’t need to use them. You see, I am a n(ewe)bie lamber, this being the first year I’ve attempted to breed from my three girls that I keep in the paddocks alongside my home on the north-coast of Jersey. And whilst the preparation for delivery has been hugely exciting, no amount of book-reading and You-Tube watching prepared me for events when my second ewe went in to labour – I found myself (literally) in at the deep end!
Labour started in the usual way; much foot scraping, top-lip-curling and getting up and down signalled that Mrs was going to become a mummy very soon. I quietly observed her for an hour, and then another. Whilst it’s not uncommon for first-timers to take their time, she seemed to be making heavy-weather of it and all I could see was the tip of a hoof sticking from her rear-end. I gave her another half-hour and decided to inspect her to check what presentation (which way round) the lamb was. So, like a modern-day James Herriot, I rolled up my sleeves (sadly not tweed a la James H), donned my arm-length plastic gloves, applied a lot of lube and had a look. Hmmmmm, confusing. All seemed well: one foot forward, nose just above it, another hoof to one side – the usual presentation. So, withdrawing, I thought perhaps she’s just slow and needs more time so I went back to observing and letting her get on with it.
Another hour or so passed and still no progress. I rang my sheepy-mentor, Jenni, and chatted it through. We agreed after this length of time, I’d need to assist Mrs with the birth. Yikes! The lube and gloves and research were only supposed to be insurance, I wasn’t supposed to actually have to put them into practise! With help from my other half, we got Mrs into the indoor pen and on her side. I re-read the relevant bits of ‘Manual of Lambing Techniques’ then gloved up and gently moved in to feel what was going on. You wouldn’t believe how it feels, feeling a soon-to-be-born lamb whilst it’s still cosied up inside its mum, blissfully unaware of the trauma it’s about to face. I’m pretty gung-ho about things, but I paused, arm-deep in sheep, and had a real, ‘why on Earth have I got myself into this’ moment. Taking up golf would’ve been so much easier…
Anyway, with Jenni’s words of wisdom ringing in my ears, I guided the first foot out. I tried to free up the second, checking that it belonged to this lamb and not a sibling, but it was stuck. So, reaching a hand over the top of baby’s head, I held the back of the head with my right hand and the ankle with my left and started to pull. When I say ‘pull’, boy, do I mean pull! This aint no gentle slide into the world, this is a pull-with-all-my-might situation! After a lot of grunting (Mrs and me), I had one leg and the head out. But that second leg was still a problem, it seemed to be caught behind the pelvis. Another call to Jenni, who raced over to help. Baby was stuck, head and leg out, looking at me like, ‘well this is a fine mess you’ve got me into, lady.’
Jenni’s expert examination revealed baby had got himself in to THE most extraordinary position – and certainly one not seen in any manual! The diagram on the left (badly) shows how he was: right leg forward, left leg twisted up over the back of his head, sitting on his right-hand side above the other foot. Even Jenni expressed surprise, both at this presentation, and the size of the head sticking out. Still, a deft twist and turn in Jenni’s hands and then more strong pulling and, phew, an absolutely ENORMOUS boy was delivered.
We held our breaths (praying that he wasn’t) until, thank goodness, he spluttered, coughed and shuddered to life. Laying him alongside mum, we could see him in all his enormity.
Bloodied, swollen and bruised (me and him!), the sense of relief and emotion was overwhelming. Jenni’s seen A LOT of births and lambs in her time, but said she’d never seen either like that before and had rarely seen such a big lamb.
Christened ‘Leviathan’ (for obvious reasons), whilst he perked up, Mrs didn’t. She’d been through an awful delivery and was sore and knackered. She really didn’t want to feed this awful bloody mess that had been presented to her – it’d hurt to produce it so why would she now let it chew at her teats?! Whilst she patiently licked him clean, she didn’t want him anywhere near her read-end and so after a few hours, I mixed up some colostrum and tube-fed Levi (another silent ‘thank God I’d read the manuals’ running through my head as I grappled with a slippery feeding tube, measuring scoops and syringe at what was now approaching midnight). As he settled down with a warm, full tummy and she dozed off, I went back to the house and washed the day’s events from me and marvelled at what I’d just experienced.
Levi is now three days old. Mrs still doesn’t want to feed him so I’ve been stomach tubing him but recently put a halter on her and tied her to the pen. Whilst she wasn’t happy, I managed to put Levi to her for a good ten minutes so at least he’s had a bellyful of her milk, rich in antibodies and goodness. I’ll try that again this evening in the hope that she begins to tolerate him, although I’m not optimistic. I suspect he’ll need to be bottle-fed from tomorrow so it looks like I’ll be playing mum.
When I started my sheep-keeping adventure, it was only with a view to keeping the grass down and having something to look at in the field. But they are fascinating creatures and the prospect of bringing new life in to the world was so exciting. I just couldn’t have foreseen quite how exciting!
Jenni said that Levi’s birth was ‘as bad as it gets’ and that I’ll never see anything worse, so I’ll chalk that up to experience and wear my lamber’s badge with satisfaction. Three days of muck, milk and madness and I’m so proud of my little flock of eight. You can keep your golf, I think I’m beginning to get this lambing thing down to a tee.