Of the sheepy persuasion, anyway.
I grew up with sheep. When I was a kid, my folks raised Suffolks, and we had quite a good-sized flock. Mom was the Chief Midwife during lambing season, heading out every couple of hours to check on ewes and drag them into the barn from whatever snowbank they had decided to lamb in. I sat more than one vigil with her back in those days, waiting for a lamb, helping the ewe through a rough time.
But that was over 40 years ago.
Goldie had a hard time.
I knew when I went out to feed the sheep this morning that she was very very close to lambing. Not only did she eat almost nothing (which is totally unlike her), she'd been quiet. Normally she's leading the chorus of "The sun has been up for a whole 5 minutes, so where's breakfast?" with great enthusiasm and volume.
So a quiet Goldie is a spooky Goldie.
I checked her several times over the course of the morning and early afternoon. She was doing a lot of pacing and pawing of the straw in their shelter - sure signs of impending lamb. But there must be something in the air this year, since all the sheep are having their lambs in the daytime, instead of at night like they're supposed to. Soon she was making a noise that spoke clearly "I'm experiencing some discomfort," and a sac of amniotic fluid had appeared. That meant the lamb was due any minute..
But "I'm experiencing some discomfort" turned into "Giving birth really sucks" and still there was no lamb. I was staying just out of sight, peeking at her to gauge how things were progressing without letting my presence upset her. (Skittish, our Goldie is. Not a people sheep at all.) When the sounds turned into "Holy shit, someone help me!" I went for a closer look.
Now normally, it's best not to intervene. You can do more harm than good, without meaning to. It's hard, but sometimes the best thing to do is just stand and watch. And normally, sheep don't need any help. But this wasn't one of those occasions.
Goldie, who should have been laying down and getting on with it at this point, was still on her feet and pacing. And bellowing. Worse, I could see a lamb head sticking out behind her, but no sign of legs. Normal presentation is the front hooves first, followed by the nose, then here comes the rest of the lamb.
We've got trouble.
I ran inside to wash up - hands and arms to the elbow (because I might have to stick an arm in and fish for legs) - and ran back out.
Even though I approached her slowly and carefully, and even though she was clearly in huge distress, Goldie wouldn't let me get anywhere near her. I kept softly crooning her name, trying to get close, but she would move out of reach as quickly as she could. I didn't want to scare her any worse than she already was, so I finally stopped moving around and just kept quietly talking to her.
I think finally she decided that I wasn't the scariest thing in her life, and approached me. I could see at that point that there was one hoof sticking out a couple of inches, but no sign of the other leg, and both legs should have been out further than the lamb's nose.
The lamb looked like it was dead - strangled, probably, or just too crushed by the birth-gone-wrong. Its eyes were lifeless and glazed.
I could hear my mother's voice in my head - "Okay, you've lost the lamb. Now save the ewe."
Goldie was still crying and her eyes were wild, but she seemed to accept that I was there to help. I gently grabbed hold of the head and exposed leg in one hand, and tried to fish around for the other leg, but she was straining too hard for me to do anything.
"Okay, girl," I said as she flopped herself down. "You push, I'll pull, and we'll get this done."
And we did.
Once the shoulders cleared, the lamb popped right out onto the straw.
And amazingly, it kicked!
It wasn't dead!
I quickly cleared its nose and mouth of mucus, and let Goldie get on with the business of licking her little bundle of joy clean.
I can't begin to express my relief at the sight of that little one raising its head.
I hung around to see if it would be able to stand. That's where the non-intervention is advisable. In assisting, all kinds of damage can be inadvertently done to the lamb - leg or joint damage, spinal damage - or to the ewe.
If a lamb can't stand, it can't nurse. If it can't nurse, it dies.
It took a while - the poor little thing had a really rough entry - but finally it struggled to its feet.
And bigtime phew again!
Still don't know if it's a boy or girl - it was way too gaumy at first to check, and now I'm staying clear to let Goldie calm back down and bond with her lamb. Just because I was her BFF when she was in extremis is no reason for her to really trust me now.
I'll get a peek soon, though.