by Dr. Nathan Carlton, DVM
Last week I was called to a farm for a down doe. The resident farmer raises sheep, and the doe in question, a Barbado, was close to lambing but wasn’t able to stand. I drove out to his place and he showed me to the sheep.
She was on the ground with her hind legs straight out behind her in a splits position. I palpated her to see if her cervix was dilated; it was not. During my exam I found her pelvis had somehow been broken.
After discussing treatment options with the owner, the decision was made to euthanize the doe. I sedated her and performed a cesarean section to see if the lambs were viable; one was dead but one was alive! I pulled her out of her mother and laid her on the ground, then euthanized the doe in accordance with the owner’s wishes.
I went back to the little lamb to make sure she was alright. She had a strong heartbeat but wasn’t breathing on her own. I cleaned the amniotic fluid from her nose and mouth, then swung her back and forth a bit to drain the fluid from her airway. I took of my sweater, wrapped the lamb inside, and rubbed vigorously. She popped up and started bleating.
I placed her on her mother’s teat to try and get her some colostrum; i.e., first milk. The farmer explained that he was unable to care for a bottle baby, so I brought her home to raise.
Baby lambs are like all young mammals, they require regular feeding, a clean environment, and shelter. Colostrum is the most important element of a baby’s nutrition. It is full of antibodies and is key to providing immunity for the offspring.
If you have a bottle baby, be sure the lamb received colostrum for the first 12 hours and then mix milk replacer with the colostrum for two days before transitioning to milk replacer. Be sure to follow label instructions on the bag of products you buy as some offer slightly different advice.
Usually lambs can be offered creep at 3-7 days of age and restrict the hay to what they will eat in an hour for the first week or so. After your lamb is born, clean the umbilicus with dilute betadine solution so you avoid poll evil, a nasty infection of the umbilicus. Be careful with amniotic fluid from sheep as it can contain infectious agents that can infect people so wear gloves and wash hands with soap and water after handling any bodily fluids. Lambs can suffer from hypothermia so be sure to keep it warm, and dry it off well. Be sure to have a vet around that you trust to help get your new addition off to a good start.
Our little lamb is now a week old and doing great!