The Mother’s Day Present That Didn’t Quite Work Out As Planned

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Like many mothers in England, I’ve seen very little of our daughter.  Her lovely Mother’s Day present was to be the delivery of ‘afternoon tea’, including homemade (by son in law Kevin) scotch eggs and sausage rolls, delicious sandwiches and tiny cakes. The plan was for Heather, Kevin and grandson Leo to deliver this early in the afternoon, when the sun would be shining and it would be warm enough for them to hand over the ‘food parcel’ and have a quick socially distanced chat over the garden wall. 

Sadly, at 2.15 I was at the farm waiting for the vet to do a caesarean.  Heather, and family, already en route, said they’d leave the box of tea in the garage.  Not much enamoured with sheep farming, Heather does understand that emergencies happen, but had no desire to witness the operation.

The ewe in question shouldn’t still be here.  Marked as a cull, having contracted mastitis last year, she had somehow made her way to the breeding field rather than being sold.  She was still on the farm at scanning, when we discovered she was carrying two lambs, so we just accepted the situation.

As her due date approached she appeared to be growing larger and larger around the stomach area, with her useless udder reminiscent of ‘Madonna with the big boobies’.  We’d been hopeful she’d lamb at the same time as some others, when we might be able to adopt her lambs onto another ewe.  No such luck.  She’d hung on until everything else had lambed, then this Sunday morning produced a water bag.

My husband Aubrey had examined her around 11am, as she wasn’t showing any signs of lambing by herself, and realised she hadn’t opened up at all, a good sign that a lamb is coming backwards, often tail first.  Because a lamb isn’t putting pressure on the birth canal with its front feet and nose, this causes discomfort, but does not alert her body that she is giving birth.  We gave her medication that should have helped, but to no avail, which was why I anticipated Paul, our vet, any minute to take the lambs out of the side door.

An emergency at our son’s pig department meant I was still waiting for Aubrey when Paul arrived, so we started to build a makeshift operating table ourselves.  Paul suggested we put a pallet on top of the bars of the walk-through feeder.  I did query whether this might be a bit high for him – he’s not that tall – but he assured me he would reach. Once Aub returned, all three of us struggled to lift the enormous ewe onto her high-rise operating table and I found a feed bin for Paul to stand on! 

Aubrey held the ewe’s head, her feet tied to the pallet to stop her escaping, while Paul operated.  There is little comparison here to ‘Call the Midwife’. He handed me the lambs, which I dried, clearing their airways of fluids and encouraging them to breathe. 

The first lamb was big, but I had little time to deal with him before number two arrived, rapidly followed by number three.  No wonder she’d looked enormous.  I rubbed all the lambs with towels and clean straw, then mixed some artificial colostrum and bottle fed all three.  By the time I’d finished, the ewe was being lowered to the ground; an easier job than getting her up there, and she was penned up with her contented children, able to lick them dry and clean.  A successful, if expensive, outcome.

The Mother's Day Present That Didn't Quite Work Out As Planned

We left her lambs with her until the following day, bottling them every four hours, but then moved them to the warm milk machine.  I hate distressing the ewe by doing this, but think she realised she couldn’t cope.  The lambs took to the machine immediately and settled in with the others.  Their mother called to them a couple of times, then happily settled down to eat hay with her friend.  She’ll now enjoy a final summer at grass.

Heather and I did manage to meet up for five minutes later that week in the agricultural merchant’s car park, when I needed more milk powder!

The Mother's Day Present That Didn't Quite Work Out As Planned  If Clouds Were Sheep by Sue Andrews

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Read Sue’s Nights In The Sheep Shed story here

Photo of afternoon tea: Andrea Leggett