Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Birth Process in Photos

As requested, the birth story of sheep. Photos are of the birth process, so if you'd rather not see, don't scroll down...

One of the things The Farmer watches for is a ewe standing off alone, away from the rest of the flock. If the ewe is pawing the straw, he knows that birth is close. He will also listen to hear if the ewe is making gentle bleating noises, which we only hear when they have lambs. It's a much different noise from their strident "feed me!" baa. 

When a ewe is actively laboring, she will lay down. She'll point her nose straight up in the air while she's straining. First comes a sac of amniotic fluid, and then two tiny hooves and a nose. Occasionally, the lamb will not present this way, especially when there are twins or triplets. When this happens, The Farmer must go in and readjust things. It is possible for the lamb to be born breech, but things really go much more smoothly when the two front legs come first and then the nose. If several lambs get tangled up, and you have one leg from one lamb and one leg from another lamb, or if the head of the lamb is back, you must intervene for the life of the lambs and the mother.

In this first photo, the ewe has already delivered one lamb. She spent a little time licking it, which stimulates the lamb's nervous system. Then nature called and she laid back down to labor for her second lamb. Another ewe is being nosy. This usually indicates that she is near her delivery time, as well. Once in a great while a nosy mother to be will try to steal a lamb from a mother who is laboring with her second lamb. Sometimes it's hard to sort them out when The Farmer goes out first thing in the morning and finds two ewes have lambed and there are four or five babies.

You can see the head of the lamb coming.

When the front legs and the head have been delivered, the ewe will stand up and let gravity finish the job. New lambs are very slippery and generally slide right out once they are to this point!

You can see she is licking her first baby while delivering the second. Multitasking mama...

It was a cold morning when these babies were born. If you look closely in this next photo, you can see the newly born baby steaming. It's important that they get up soon and find the udder. The milk gives them much needed warmth and nourishment. The first day or so the milk is extra thick and rich--it's called colostrum. We are hardly ever able to keep a baby alive without that wonderful first milk. If a baby is too weak to drink on its own, The Farmer will milk some of the colostrum out and feed it to the weak lamb. Most of the time, it will strengthen and warm the lamb enough so that it does well from that point on. Occasionally we will have to do additional feedings.

After the birth, the ewe and lamb(s) are taken to a small pen where they can bond without interruptions from other sheep. At this point, fresh water and hay is provided for the ewe, who is on guard for the first day or so to see if visitors are there to bother her new lamb(s). This ewe is laying down, but still on guard. If the ewe feels threatened, she will stamp her front feet to try to scare visitors off.

Feel free to ask questions if you have them! 

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