For several weeks now, I have been keeping a close eye on ewe #227. She's my smallest ewe and this year is her first year to have lambs. She has been absolutely enormous for the last three weeks or so, much more so than any of the other ewes. Every lamb check, I have been making a special point to check on her.
This afternoon, I got a call from my dad while at work that she had given birth to a stillborn ram lamb. I promptly told him to go back out (in the 0 degree wind) and check to see if a second lamb had been born, as the ultrasounds back in November showed she was expecting twins. A little while later, he called back to say the other lamb was stuck backwards and had to be helped, but was also born dead. It appeared that they had not been alive for several days, based on the color of her placenta.
While this is disappointing, it is a reality for every shepherd. Not everything going perfect all the time, and we always expect a few random issues that cannot be predicted.
But, there is one silver lining and that is COLOSTRUM, or "liquid gold". Colostrum is the first milk provided by a mother and is very rich in nutrients, protein and antibodies. We call it "liquid gold" because of the thick consistency, yellow/gold color, and importance to the lambs. Getting a good feeding of colostrum is very important to lambs, particularly in this very cold weather we have been having. Feeding colostrum can perk up almost any cold or lethargic lamb. While powdered colostrum exists, nothing beats the real thing!
During evening chores this evening, dad and I gave her 1 cc of oxytocin. Oxytocin can be used to help stimulate contractions, as well as stimulate the milk letdown reflex. Normally, when lambs begin to nurse, the ewe's body releases oxytocin and the milk is let down into the udder for the lamb. With ewe #227, she did not have lambs to stimulate milk letdown, so we helped her out a little. After ten minutes, I was able to milk out about 1 cup of colostrum.
We will freeze this colostrum and be able to give it to a lamb who may need it in the future. Colostrum in the freezer is something every shepherd should have on hand! Even though #227 doesn't have her own lambs, I am thankful for the gift she will be able to pass on to another ewe and her lambs.
Emmaline Long, main owner of Orchard View Farm, has a passion for Lincoln sheep and loves educating others about her breed and farm, She currently serves as the Vice President of the National Lincoln Breeders Association.