Part four of a general overview of the basics of the lambing experience. I’ll refine this in future as I get a better grip on the whole thing so please excuse any inaccuracies and don’t take any of this as gospel.
Most ewes will lamb unaided and about 95% of lambs are born in the normal presentation, forefeet first.
However if the ewe continues to strain, but there is no sign of the waterbags, she continues to strain an hour after the rupture of the waterbags, there is no sign of a lamb, the lamb appears to be wedged in the birth canal or if there is an abnormal presentation, a leg back, head back etc. assistance may be needed.
Any delay in assistance could mean the difference between a live and dead lamb.
Cleanliness is important to prevent infection of the uterus. Scrub hands and arms with soap and a mild disinfectant, and lubricate with soap or an obstetrical cream. We used Agri-Gel.
The hand is then carefully slid into the vagina to feel the lamb and assess the situation. Obviously a person with a small hand (me!) is best suited for this task.
In many cases the lamb will be presented tightly but normally, you will feel two forelegs with the head between them but in others there will be a malpresentation there may be:
One or both forelegs back.
Hindlegs instead of fore legs.
Two Lambs Together
Tight Birth. This can be caused by a large lamb, a small ewe, a small pelvis or any combination of the three. This is probably the most common delivery problem in sheep. It is most common among young ewes or flocks that have a preponderance of singles. Presentation of the lamb can be normal and birthing is still not progressing. Often the lamb is in the birth canal and may be partially presented. Firm pressure is often all that is needed to remove the lamb. The best method of applying pressure is to grab a front leg below the knee and pulling it in a downward arc towards the ewe’s hocks until it is extended. Take care that the head is coming and you may actually have to pull the skin over the lamb’s head. Then pull the second leg into an extended position just like the first. From this point, steady, firm pressure may be all that is needed.
If the lamb is still not coming, steady arcing pressure towards the ewe’s hocks should be continued with a slight swaying or rocking from side to side. If things are still not progressing, the ewe can be rolled onto her back and often this frees up a bit of space and the lamb can be delivered.
One Leg Back. This malpresentation is a reasonably common one. The head and one leg are coming normally, while one leg is not extended into the birth canal. If the ewe is roomy or the lamb is not large, often one can pull the lamb with the leg back. If this is not feasible, then the lamb’s shoulders, leg and head should be pushed back and the turned back front leg should be “flipped” into the birth canal. Take care not to lose the lamb’s head when doing this.
Both Legs Back. This presentation entails the head only coming, with both front legs back. This can be a very serious situation. If the head is sticking out of the ewe it can swell and it is then difficult to push the head back to obtain one or more of the front legs. Prompt action is required to successfully deal with this type of delivery.
Head Back. This can be one of the most frustrating malpresentations that occur. The head has to be brought into place before the lamb can be delivered. It takes patience and perseverance sometimes to locate the head. When located, be sure it is the head of the correct lamb and not its sibling. This type of presentation, it is often handy to have a lambing snare to hold either the front legs or head in place once you sort the situation out. This can be one of the most difficult malpresentations, especially if the lamb is large.
Hindlegs First. This is an easy situation to overcome. Simply pull the lamb backwards. However, one needs to be careful not to injure or break the lamb’s ribs as it is being pulled. Also, often times when lambs come backwards, the ewe will not present a water bag.
Two Lambs Together. This problem takes some sorting. One has to follow heads, feet and legs all the way back to the shoulder or source to be sure what lamb they belong to. This takes time, patience and a visualization process. Usually, they can be sorted out and the fact that it is more than one lamb can be in our favor, as the lambs are not usually large. Identify, the body parts of lamb, deal with it, and the next one is usually easier.
There are plenty more permutations of a difficult birth. if you want to know more click here.
When assisting ewes lamb it takes: patience, perseverance and gentleness. Rushing the job won’t work and actually can lead to further complications and even permanent injury to ewes. When lambs need pulled, steady, gentle, but firm pressure works best. To successfully pull lambs, one needs to be able to visualize lamb parts and positions by touch. This takes a limited knowledge of anatomy and a bit of concentration.
As ewes often have multiple births, the same sequence of the rupture of the waterbag and expulsion of the lamb will be repeated for the delivery of each lamb. After an assisted lambing always check the ewe internally that there is not another lamb to be delivered. For one check for two, two check for three and so on!
One they’re out, clear the mucus, tickle that nose and show them to mommy. Good job!