People who have had the privilege of experiencing the miracle of life through witnessing birth know that life is messy and follows no prescribed schedule. We can make all the guesses we want about when the baby or babies will arrive, but nature takes its course as it will — and sometimes it takes its sweet time (especially if you’re a giraffe named April).
There’s a certain level of mixed excitement and worry as the time gets closer. There are all sorts of signs that you can use to estimate when birthing will take place, but the best you can do is guess based upon those estimations.
When Amy Hill’s 10-year-old Katahdin sheep Dotty got pregnant, there was no reason anything should go wrong. She’d lambed before, several times, always producing healthy babies for Snowy River Farm.
The farm, located in Nova Scotia, Canada, focuses on raising animals without the use of soy or corn, and has a sincere respect for its critter inhabitants, striving to foster “pasture-raised, heritage products created in a humane and ecologically friendly manner.”
While Hill has other sheep on the farm, Dotty holds a special place in her heart, as she alone can claim the title of “Amy’s first sheep.” In a Facebook post, Hill writes that “you need to know that Dotty was the first ewe I ever purchased. She started my love of sheep, she is my best ewe friend and she means the world to me.”
So when Dotty started to look “off,” Hill was understandably concerned. Her concern grew to outright dread when she found her special ewe friend unable to move one morning.
“I walked up the sheep pasture for morning chores and found my beloved Dotty on her back, eyes rolling in her head and struggling to breathe,” she wrote on Facebook. “I ran to her, flipped her over onto her front and held her upright while I called the vet.”
Fearing pregnancy toxemia (also known as ketosis), Hill rushed to get more sugars into the sheep’s system. After conferencing with the vet, she kept an eye on the sheep and made sure her sugar levels were kept high with a regimen of high-sugar supplements.
Dotty was very large, and pregnancy toxemia is more common in animals who are carrying larger litters. Hill figured that because they’d tried a new cross with a different breed of ram, perhaps the babies were just too big.
Dotty’s previous lambings had resulted in twins. But if these babies were larger than she was used to, perhaps that was causing the problem.
After her sugar levels balanced out, Dotty acted a little better. But as time passed, Hill and the vet knew something was wrong. The babies still hadn’t come yet, Dotty’s sides were distended, and the babies had stopped moving.
With sadness over the prospect of losing her Dotty, Hill resigned herself to the fact that the Katahdin sheep had probably lost the babies and would need to be put down. She held out little hope that the situation could be resolved and knew she was losing her favorite.
“The thought that we may need to put her down all of a sudden has consumed me since Saturday. We gave her a shot on Monday as a last effort, hoping it would allow her to pass the lambs on her own so we didn’t need to worry about infection,” she shared. “I checked her multiple times yesterday and still no change.”
But at the last moment, as Hill prepared to take time off to care for and comfort Dotty one last time, everything changed. As she neared Dotty’s pen, she saw something she couldn’t compute crawling about in the straw.
On other occasions, Dotty had blessed the farm with twins. But this time, she outdid herself: FOUR babies.
Four little, wavy-haired, still-damp lambs. Active, healthy, and HUNGRY.
As sheep only have two “faucets,” Hill has to help out with feeding time, but it’s something she is happy to do — especially given the alternative. Momma and babies all made it, and a relieved Hill said she had quite a time processing the success.
“I am floored. I won’t lie, I cried for a good half hour when I found them this morning. The relief that my girl is still with us and that she has blessed us with four beautiful babies (three boys, one girl) is overwhelming in the best of ways,” Hill said.
It’s nice to see someone who takes such good care of their animals and truly values them beyond just their practical usefulness. As for Dotty, she has earned her retirement with this final feat, and Hill says this will be her last litter. She has definitely earned her relaxation on this charming farm!
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