Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Hardy bucks and curious cases from another successful lambing season

Up here in the northeast we had a good lambing season and apart from the prolonged cold and dry patch that left grass scarce, we had little to complain about.

Two interesting lambings come to mind when I contemplate the season just past. The first involved a four-year-old ewe that was five to six hours lambing and had nothing to show for it. The farmer attempted to sort out the problem, but quickly decided that something was amiss. At the clinic, when I handled her, I had five feet and no other clear anatomical feature.

It took a few moments to clearly distinguish one from the other, but before long we established we had an 'inside-out' foetus. Schistosoma reflexus is the scientific term for this condition and it involves the developing foetus being formed literally inside-out.

The four legs and head are all in a tight ball and the chest cavity is folded back over that ball. That leaves the heart and other organs outside this ball and the whole thing presents as one big mass of tissue. We had to cut the foetus in two inside the ewe and take the mass of tissue out piece by piece. The fifth leg proved to be a hardy little twin fighting for space behind the abnormal mass. It was a pleasant surprise to pull out a smashing little ewe lamb from behind all that lifeless tissue.

My other memorable lambing from this season was a hardy little buck lamb which presented at the clinic with his head only sticking out and the remainder of his body still in the ewe. We've all seen these cases from time to time and usually the head is swollen over a short passage of time. The ewe's pelvis is usually too narrow to accommodate both legs and the head at the one time and so out pops one without the other two.

With the swelling of the head, the lambing is now further complicated as there's no room to move either forward or backward. This little fellow began breathing through his nose and gave a weak bleat from time to time. The normal solution is to sacrifice the lamb, remove the head and hopefully retrieve the rest of the lamb as normal.

On occasion, it is possible to push the head back and quickly search for feet to lamb the ewe in the normal way. But where the head swells excessively and the lamb is now breathing independently, that option is no longer available.

The farmer looked me in the eye and said I was to do whatever possible, but I was not to sacrifice the lamb.

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The few little bleats had pulled on his heart strings and he told me he felt sorry that he hadn't noticed the ewe lambing until this late in the day. We had but one option as a result, and within minutes we had the ewe on her back and performed a caesarean section to retrieve this hardy buck of a ram lamb.

Lots of lubricant was required to pull the lamb out through the abdomen and pop the very swollen head back in through the pelvis. When all was done, my lamb was up and standing as the last stitch was put in the ewe. She had no milk and so the lamb had to be slowly hand-fed until the swollen head returned to normal. As it was a Sunday afternoon, my children had witnessed the event and he became a pet lamb at home with ourselves.

Lenny is now a feisty member of the family, bullying the poor dogs and driving my wife mad by eating the leaves off her apple trees. I can see him being exchanged as payment for my caesarean section further down the line. I ask myself, who gained most that day?

Flocks are thriving on good grass but don't forget those faecal egg reduction tests to focus our worming programme throughout the year. Drop in a few samples to your vet and get a conversation going on how best to keep your parasite problem to a minimum. Skin parasites and blow-fly problems will also raise their ugly heads, so let's be vigilant.

And as I take leave of you, Lenny is happily munching on the summer bedding plants.

Beidh a thuilleadh an mhí seo chugain le cúnamh Dé.

Peadar Ó Scanaill is a vet in Ashbourne, Co Meath, and a member of Veterinary Ireland Tel: 01-4577976

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