Celeste is our oldest and wisest ewe, a 9-year-old Romney who we acquired with our starter flock 3 years ago. When I asked, “Really, you are selling me a 6-year-old ewe?” Carol said she doubted that I would be disappointed. And I was not. Celeste is a fierce and devoted mother, an independent ewe who always looks at us slightly suspiciously and who never seeks out human contact. Her message is generally to leave her alone because she can take care of things on her own, thank-you-very-much.
She had triplets her first year with us, and twins last year, and mothered all of those lambs tirelessly, never letting them out of her sight for a moment, (“one-two-three, one-two-three”) and stomping a foot at anyone who came near.
That is why it was so surprising to Melinda yesterday when she was out in the pasture and Celeste engaged her very intensely, talking to Melinda and staring into her eyes. Ewes often baa or nicker as if they are talking to a lamb when they are in early labor, but Celeste’s engagement of Melinda was not this ewe’s normal personality or even her in-labor personality. Celeste has always had her lambs quietly on her own.
I have been a bit preoccupied because Corey had emergency brain surgery on Tuesday to remove a subdural hematoma that had been forming since he hit his head in a fall in December. I got home from the hospital yesterday afternoon and it was my turn to take evening barn duty. Melinda told me Celeste was acting peculiar and probably was in early labor. I found her in the barn last night, clearly in labor, but not progressing. I had to get Lolo to come up to the barn to help me catch her.
Corey and his ICU nurse watched on the lamb-cam as Lolo assisted me while I examined Celeste. I found a lamb in the uterus, floppy and not at all lined up to be born. It was clearly dead. As we have learned, lambs that die in utero don’t get born on their own, because they are dead and floppy and can’t line up correctly to enter the birth canal.
A live lamb “dives” into the birth canal with feet and head well-aligned, while a dead one doesn’t help itself to be born. This lamb was clearly dead and I had a heck of a time getting it out.
It is always so sad when a lamb is born dead. A few nights ago our ewe Nan had two dead lambs, who died because the placenta became detached, possibly when Nan got cast on her back in the pasture a few days before she lambed. Nan crooned and keened over those dead lambs, and had no live lambs to love. I cried at Celeste’s dead lamb and couldn’t bear to see this old grandmother keen like that without a lamb to love.
I went right back in to see if there was another lamb in there, fearing that if there was, it would be dead, stalled by the dead lamb that had been gumming up the works. But when I found the next lamb, it weakly pulled its foot away from me and I knew it was alive. I delivered the lamb, and it was weak, but Celeste loved it up and it lived. A beautiful little girl. Of course we will keep her, as we do all of the ewe lambs from this remarkable mother.
Corey and his nurse enjoyed the show, especially the happy ending. And Corey is doing well, and coming home from the hospital later today.
Look at Celeste in this video, stamping her foot to let us know she is protecting that lamb from harm.