Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tragedy at Tanglewood

I admit I haven't blogged much lately here mostly because my mother is in town and she and I have been busy from sun up to sun down, and when the sun goes down I crash like a plane without wings - nose first into the couch. In addition to my busy schedule, I've been avoiding blogging because I inevitably have to blog about the happenings of Tuesday night.

Gertrude, our beloved one winter ewe (meaning she was born last spring) gave birth to a stillborn lamb after going into early labor. She went into labor on Tuesday afternoon, though now that I think about it, something was definitely up when I went to put them in their stall Monday night because I always "Baa" at the ladies in greeting and Gerty always "Baas" back, but not Monday. She was very stoic.

Tuesday I noticed she was particularly quiet, and when I realized I'd been out tilling for a while and she hadn't pestered me for treats by calling across the fields in a loud demanding voice, I thought I'd check up on her. I found her lying beside the door to the barn, breathing a bit heavy, and very quiet. When I got her to stand up I noticed she had wet all around her bottom which I originally mistook for loose stools (or scours) but upon further investigation I discovered it was mucous and that she had begun labor.

I went through stages of panic, and then joy when I learned a ram had escaped and visited a number of ewes at the breeding farm exactly 147 days before, and then panic again as I realized something just didn't feel right. She continued in early labor all evening, with a few pushes now and then, but more than anything she just seemed confused and uncomfortable. At two AM all was well, though I noticed she had more mucous than before, so I thought I'd do another quick check at three just so I could get a few hours of sleep and get up at a reasonable six AM.

Three o'clock came around and as I approached the barn I heard a grunt. I don't know why I was so skeptical. There weren't really any outward signs that there was trouble, but I was definitely not assuming I was coming to the barn to find a healthy lamb. When I reached the barn, I found her with her water broken and something protruding that didn't quite look right. I called my mom (who was sleeping in the house) and she came out. As we watched, Gertrude delivered a too-small, dark colored lamb, nose first and then proceeded to walk to her hay feeder and munch. I went into the stall and checked things out. The lamb was probably only a week or two premature. It appeared to have all of the necessaries, including a little fuzzy coat, but it was obviously dead and very much so. I tore it out of it's sac and investigated a bit, but I knew as soon as I saw it's delivery that there was no hope.

We don't know why poor Gertrude went into early labor. It could have been as complicated as nutrition or even an abortive disease, or it could've been as simple as Ingrid accidentally bumping her the wrong way in the stall the night before. There is really no way to tell, apart from sending the stillborn lamb to MSU for a necropsy, and as this is my first lamb ever I just felt like I'm not really ready to drop a ton of money on something like that. I can tell outwardly from the placental buttons that it wasn't toxoplasmosis, and many of the other diseases are accompanied by pain or other outward signs, so it's entirely possible it was something that isn't a danger to other sheep.
Just to be totally sure, however, I kept Gertrude apart for a few days and I completely disinfected the whole stall. This entailed mucking the bedding, scraping the dirt, pouring strong disinfectant over the whole stall floor, sponging disinfectant up the walls and along the planks of the lambing jug, disinfecting food bowls, water buckets, hay feeders, mineral pans... The whole shebang. My sincerest hope is that we get at least one healthy lamb from Ingrid, but with the possibility of this being an abortive disease I have to think realistically, and realistically there is a possibility that she too will give birth to stillborns. Still, Gertrude had almost no udder, and Ingrid is bagging up heavily. Gertrude was also a young ewe to give birth, and Ingrid is an old pro. I have to think positively, and keep my expectations low. Even if it is disease, there is a great possibility that next year's lambing season will go without a hitch.

That's just how farming works. You can't linger on the negatives because in farming there certainly are negatives. You're always looking forward, moving up and getting over things. Such is life, and all things move on with or without you.

As a quick aside, Gertrude is completely healthy and seems to have forgotten the whole thing. She never even sniffed the stillborn lamb so it's likely she just didn't understand what was going on in the first place. She never mourned, and that has made the whole thing easier for me. She just seems happy to be more comfortable, and more than anything I'm just happy to have her alive and Baaing at me from across the farm again. Also, I'd like to point out what impeccable fashion sense my husband has in the photo just above this paragraph. Yeesh...


  1. Hugs to you both over your experience. My husband and I started with a small flock in your area of the State in the late 1980's thru the 1990's when we were in our early 30's and our first lambing was full of fresh knowledge, surprises and a disappointment. And your husband's pic reminds me so much of mine. Farm clothes are hilarious but sensible and economical! How about beloved muck boots, with shorts during the rainy season? Be sure to take plenty of videos all thru the year(s). Thru the heartbreaks, though, I would remind myself that the "loving pet" part of having the sheep was really as a whole flock. That helped a little bit to take the sting away. The little flock will grow stronger and adapt to your farm, and become a precious part of the memories of your life. Love one another!

  2. When we slowly lost all 8 of our chickens to wild dogs, it was heartbreaking. Now that I'm over the sadness it has made us stronger. We're now investing in better equipment and putting more care into our chickens (another investment) than we did last year. Now I may not get quite as attached to these gals as I did the first bunch, but a loss won't be as tragic either.
    We live. We learn. We hope.

  3. My first lambing season, we lost a ewe to shock or torsion or something on shearing day, several weeks before lambing. The first ewe to actually lamb had a difficult delivery with triplets, and the tiniest one (less than 3 lbs) ended up living in the house for a month. He was our only colored lamb. The other four lambs we had that year were white. All of our lambs were ram lambs, no ewe lambs. Not a great first year!

    We survived and lambing has gotten better since then. We have had a rough year here and there - lost a couple of favorite yearling ewes to some strange disease that even MSU and Colorado State couldn't figure out one year; had several stillbirths and then several mysterious lamb deaths around 10 weeks another year - but last year we had no lamb losses except a one-day-old lamb that apparently got herself squished by somebody.

    The not knowing why is often the hardest part, coupled with the helplessness of knowing you might not be able to prevent similar tragedies. The responsibility we feel for the livestock in our care can weigh heavily, but there is some easing of the burden in remembering that we have so little control over so much.

    I am so sorry about Gertrude's lost lamb. I do understand the heartache, and as the first human to greet Gert I grieve with you. Here's hoping Ingrid gives you happy, healthy lambs to enjoy . . . and to many happy lambing seasons ahead!

  4. I'm glad Gertrude is ok. I'm having a similar year with "wonderings". Wondering why one of my goats is so skinny. Wondering why one of her babies is sick. I've had 2 really good years and this one has caused so much more worrying. You're right, it's part of farming - the hard part. Best of luck with Ingrid's lambing.

  5. I'm sorry about the little lamb stillborn. That is sad, but of course, a sad part of life. I'm glad that your ewe isn't mourning the loss. Sad :(