Good Daughter is a 5-year-old East Friesian ewe, the daughter of a ewe we called Good Mother, because of her easy lambing, good mothering, and great growth of her lambs. Good Daughter had always lambed easily and without incident, but this year she had a hard time, as is too often the case with our older East Friesian ewes (and I’ve come to realize that 5 is older for an East Friesian!). She was very heavy before lambing, with a huge udder, and for the last day or so before she lambed, she couldn’t get up without help and didn’t leave the barn. Linda and I were elated when she lambed on March 5 and only had triplets. She had been so huge I was expecting quads. She loved all three of those lambs. We got her to her feet after lambing, and gave her a double jug (we call them triplet-suites) so she and her lambs would have plenty of room, but when her lambs were 4 days old she went down on her beautiful boy when no one was in the barn, and smothered him. We were all so sad, and Good Daughter was too. We have had ewes in full fleece accidentally smother a lamb because they didn’t realize the lamb was trapped under their fleece, and that is one reason we now shear before lambing. That cut way down on the smothering accidents. I believe Good Daughter knew her lamb was under her and couldn’t get up to free him. It is heart-wrenching to see a ewe mourn her lost lamb. At least she had two surviving girls, and she has taken very good care of them.
I really think losing the lamb was a setback; she seemed depressed for several days. We would get her up, but she didn’t want to walk. And as the days went on, she was stiffer and stiffer when we did get her up, as a result of laying on her folded legs for so long. We gave her anti-inflammatories, walked her around the barn-yard, hauled her up every time she went down. It is hard on everyone’s back to have a 250-lb ewe who needs to be lifted up multiple times a day, but we worked hard at helping her get well.
The good news was that she had a huge appetite the whole time, diving into alfalfa with gusto whenever it was put in front of her. We also were giving her grain for extra energy. And she was feeding and loving her lambs, even though they spent most of their day jumping on her like a trampoline when she was down. The wool is worn off her back from their constant playing on her.
Last weekend I looked at her laying there with a stoic expression on her face as her lambs jumped all over her, and I began to lose hope. It had been 10 days and if anything she was getting worse, not better. She seemed to be just tolerating her lot in life, and at times she lay there grinding her teeth, which is a sign of distress or pain in sheep. I have seen this before with our East Friesian ewes who have been down after lambing; no matter what we have done, some have just declined until they stopped eating and lost the will to live and we had to put them down. I felt certain that was where Good Daughter was headed.
Then on Monday, with Lolo and his strong back here to watch her all day and get her up whenever she was down, Good Daughter started to make a comeback. We didn’t have to force her to walk; she was taking walks of her own accord. She was staying on her feet longer, and not so stiff and lame. And she was still eating like a horse. Lolo said he was convinced she was getting better.
Each day this week she has improved, and today, 2 weeks after she lambed, we decided she was ready to graduate with her lambs to the “mixing group,” the group of mothers with young lambs who spend the night in a big pen in the barn and the day out on pasture. She seems really energized by the company, and she is almost getting up by herself. She just needs a little boost of her hips and she can do the rest. Her lambs are overjoyed to finally have playmates. We feel confident she is going to make it, and will be getting up on her own soon. Once she can do that, she and her lambs can go out to spend their days and nights on pasture with the mothers and older lambs.