Get the ci­gars out - there’s 5000 lambs

Marlborough Express - - FOOD - JOYCE WYLLIE: OPIN­ION

Un­like a nine-month wait for hu­man ba­bies, on sheep farms ‘‘ma­ter­nity wards’’ get busy af­ter only a five-month ewe ges­ta­tion from au­tumn to spring.

On our place 3200 ewes were scanned to be in lamb, some car­ry­ing mul­ti­ples, so we were ex­pect­ing nearly 5000 ba­bies to be born over six weeks dur­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

Preg­nant mums are sep­a­rated into green-car­peted an­te­na­tal wards ac­cord­ing to due dates of ‘‘early’’, ‘‘mid­dle’’ or ‘‘late’’.

Triplet-bear­ing ewes in smaller mobs set­tle into the most shel­tered and com­fort­able suites. Sin­gle bear­ing pa­tients are placed in heav­ier stock­ing rates into more ven­ti­lated, less lux­u­ri­ous de­liv­ery rooms. Twin moth­ers are ac­com­mo­dated in mid-stan­dard moth­er­hood fa­cil­i­ties.

Daily mon­i­tor­ing of wards is con­ducted by an ex­pe­ri­enced mid­wifery pair of blokes on bikes.

Their well-qual­i­fied ob­stet­ric as­sis­tants, Stella and Jack, Boogie and Mac, are not a team of pae­di­atric nurs­ing staff, but rather highly trained ca­nines to qui­etly catch pa­tients need­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Sick or stray off­spring are iden­ti­fied and trans­ported back to base hospi­tal in a warm in­su­lated plas­tic box known as the lam­bu­lance. Ail­ing ba­bies are then wrapped and placed in an in­cu­ba­tor, which is a ba­sic metal box, orig­i­nally a gas can­is­ter cover but now, mod­i­fied and with wheels at­tached, and this is an ef­fec­tive mo­bile multi lamb fa­cil­ity.

With hot wa­ter bot­tles and blan­kets it op­er­ates to warm wet woolly ba­bies and on fine days it can be wheeled to take ad­van­tage of sun­shine.

In­stead of IV drip set-ups, flu­ids and dex­trose are ad­min­is­tered to small suf­fer­ers by care­ful in­traperi­toneal in­jec­tion and it’s amaz­ing how quickly fluid and en­ergy re­place­ment re­sus­ci­tates weak lit­tle bod­ies. The mo­tor­bike shed is adapted to a tem­po­rary pae­di­atric de­part­ment with saw­dust floor.

Moth­ers re­quir­ing as­sis­tance ar­rive at the in­ten­sive care unit by res­cue bike-trailer rather than res­cue he­li­copter. ICU is a mo­bile clinic on our front lawn with me op­er­at­ing as the on duty ob­ste­tri­cian.

Hus­band Jock planned well by mar­ry­ing a vet be­cause any pa­tient he col­lects that is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing com­pli­ca­tions he can make a re­fer­ral to the ‘‘spe­cial­ist ‘‘. This is es­pe­cially the case when symp­toms iden­ti­fied are more messy and smell bad.

Birthing prob­lems can in­clude twins stuck in the pelvis, ba­bies pre­sent­ing in­cor­rectly and oc­ca­sion­ally a mum­mi­fied or de­formed foe­tus. Un­like hu­man in­fants ar­riv­ing with a blunt head first, ewes have an ad­van­tage when de­liv­er­ing nor­mally as lamb’s long legs lead, fol­lowed by a head with a nice pointed nose.

The first breath of a new­born is just amaz­ing.

Of­ten lambs need a gen­tle up­side-down swing to ex­pel mu­cus, and pinch­ing the sep­tum be­tween nos­trils ini­ti­ates a breath re­sponse.

Sadly, in spite of the med­i­cal team’s best ef­forts not all ba­bies in our care sur­vive. The post natal de­part­ment is a grat­ing floored ward off the wool­shed and also in­cor­po­rates a fos­ter­ing wing where new fam­i­lies can be bonded.

Ma­ter­nity wards are homes for births, and birth is al­ways awe­some. Ev­ery mother has mem­o­ries of that un­for­get­table ob­stet­ric ex­pe­ri­ence and wel­com­ing new life. While lamb­ing still brings out the ma­ter­nal in­stincts in me, I am for­ever grate­ful for our ba­bies 17 and 19 years ago.

Joyce Wyllie lives on a sheep and beef farm at Kai­hoka on the west coast of Golden Bay.

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