April 24, 2013
Orka, one of our Icelandic ewes, began to show signs of lambing two Sundays ago. Her bag (udder) was full and she was becoming restless and aloof. A total of nine goats and sheep had successfully given birth so far this season, and she was to be the tenth. Well they say that one out of every ten births proves to be problematic, and if you are at all squeamish, I suggest that you NOT scroll down any further.
WARNING: RATHER GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW
Sheep really don’t require any intervention during the lambing process. We do not separate the lambs at birth, as we do with the goat kids, and it is best if the ewes can do everything out on pasture without the stress of us hovering over them. I went out to check on her after evening chores and everything seemed fine. Her water broke while I was shining my flashlight on her vagina. “Great,” I thought, “We’ll have some more lambs in the morning. Good luck, Orka.” And we went to bed.
The next morning, there were no new lambs. We found Orka lying in the sheep house, exhausted and in pain. She was having contractions but was hardly dilated. Because of last year’s tragic lambing and kidding season, we know exactly what to do in these situations. We reached in, expecting to find a (preferably live) lamb in need of some assistance getting out. But neither of us could feel much of anything. Something wasn’t right.
Her bag was big, purplish blue (not normal), cold (definitely not normal), and very firm. We wanted to relieve some of that pressure in order to make her just a little more comfortable. But when Bailey went to milk her, a foul-smelling, chunky, cloudy, bloody liquid squirted out. We immediately called our friend Cindi, who is not only a goat and sheep expert, but also a professor of animal sciences at the local university. She explained that Orka had gangrene mastitis, that the unborn lambs were probably dead, that the only way to save Orka was to slice open and drain the udder, that if she didn’t die from the whole ordeal (which she likely would) that she could never be bred again, and that we needed to call our vet right away.
Our vet echoed all of that, but told us that if we wanted to bring Orka in to the clinic, she would be able to see her in 3 hours or so. We had two options: 1) Make her suffer for a few more hours before loading her into the back of the pickup and spending hundreds of dollars at the vet, where her udder would be sliced open, her lamb fetuses extracted, and then she’d be put on a serious course of antibiotics, which would likely not keep her from dying anyway; or 2) put her down.
We have a gun, but it’s not the right kind of gun for shooting a sheep. Plus we have no idea how to use it. So we called a neighbor friend who kindly came right over and put her down for us. When we called the vet to cancel the emergency appointment, she told us that we had made the right decision.
We then called Cindi, just to follow up and let her know how everything had transpired. As it turned out, she was teaching an Animal Sciences Lab that afternoon, and asked if we would be interested in bringing in Orka so that she could conduct a necropsy with her students. So sure enough. We loaded up the carcass after brunch and headed to campus, where, under the sun on a beautiful Spring day, Cindi disassembled Orka in front of 25 or so students. Not only was it a very rare opportunity for them to see gangrenous mastitis, but she also had two unborn lambs that had come to full term.
The first thing Cindi did was remove the udder, seen in the above photo. The little light pink patch is what healthy udder tissue looks like, everything else is toxic gangrene. On the bottom of the udder, she found a deep cut. Orka was short-legged and her udder nearly dragged on the ground when she walked; she had apparently punctured it on something–likely an unnoticed piece of wire sticking out of the ground–the wound became infected and gangrene developed very quickly.
The two unborn ram lambs were big boys (nearly 12 pounds each). We got to see all of Orka’s stomachs, her reproductive system, and well, everything else.
We are so happy that she was able to be used for educational purposes and feel really fortunate to have been able to experience something like that. There happened to be a butcher taking the class; he was able to comfortable and cleanly remove the legs and head. The legs and lambs were put in the freezer for our dear Beth at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy. Maybe she’ll make some more hoof candleholders or fetus hats? And we are going to have the head mounted for our dining room. She was so beautiful, and now her beauty will live on forever.