This morning I got dressed to go into town to pick up my friend from Chicago at the train station. I was wearing my good jeans and a nice top. Before leaving though I wanted to check and see if White Feather had lambed yet. She'd been very talkative the night before, and I figured she might be in labor. I headed out to the pasture, and after seeing all the ewes and no new lambs, I turned to head back to the house.
Then I saw a black lamb lying next to the fence all alone. Her mother was nowhere near her, which is odd for such a young lamb. I walked up to her. Her eyes were open, and she didn't move as I bent over to pick her up. Most lambs would have been halfway across the pasture by then. I smelled something terrible as I picked her up. I lifted her tail, and it looked like she had diarrhea, so I quickly dropped the tail, hoping it would prevent the dreadful scent from reaching my nose. I tried to hold her away from my body, which was a struggle against my instinct of wanting to hold her close because I knew she was having problems. I reminded myself that I didn't want to have to change clothes. As I headed for the gate, her mother suddenly appeared and began to protest. I told her I was sorry, but her baby needed help. I saw Mike in another pasture and called to him. I just wanted him to take the lamb into the house for me, so I wouldn't get dirty.
After Mike took her, he looked under her tail and quickly said, "That's maggots!" Huh? I looked under her tail and realized that what I thought was diarrhea under her tail was moving! We ran to the house and started washing her back end with tea tree oil shampoo. Why? Because it was the only thing I had that I thought would be slightly more effective than plain shampoo. We soaped her up and rinsed her three times. Finally I suggested that we soap her up and stick her rear in a pan of warm water. Maybe we could drown the maggots? After about five minutes, she started to shiver, so we took her out of the water, rinsed her again and tried to pick the maggots out of her hair.
We realized that her wool was a problem, so we got her as dry as we could and started to shave her back half with my goat clippers. That helped make it easier to see the maggots and crush them. Then we decided to get tweezers. Mike sat down and started to pick at the maggots and I ran down to the computer to post a quick message on my sheep list and google "lamb maggots." Most of the information talked about why they dock lambs' tails -- so they won't get manure on the tails, which will attract flies, which will lay eggs, which will hatch into maggots and eat away at the lamb's flesh until it dies!
I made a quick call to a vet who I know used to raise sheep, even though she doesn't "do" sheep. Her receptionist gave her my message and called back to say that I should just continue doing what I'm doing. What? There are hundreds -- probably thousands -- of these little worms in this lamb's skin, and we're supposed to pick them off with tweezers! I found another shepherd's blog, and she talked about her experience picking out maggots with tweezers. The ladies on my Yahoo sheep group offered some tips and tons of support, which makes the group infinitely more valuable than any article that I read.
Three hours after I found the lamb in the pasture, I told Mike that all three of us needed a break. I had sent my son into town to pick up our Chicago guest, and I suggested that we ask them to bring home pizza. My nice jeans were soaked with bath water and lamb urine. For most of the three hours, the lamb laid in our laps motionless and quiet. We kept looking at her chest to make sure she was still breathing. While we waited for Jonathan to come home with our guest and the pizza, I warmed a bottle for the baby with fresh goat milk, then I took her outside, hoping she'd pee. I put her on the ground, and she just stood there looking at me. At least she can stand, I thought! I picked her up, and sat down in a chair under a huge oak tree, and she fell asleep in my lap.
Twelve hours after finding her in the pasture I can't believe how many maggots I've seen and how many I've squished. The lamb now has a name -- Princess -- against my better judgment. My brain just started spinning, even as I told myself not to give her a name yet. What if she doesn't make it? Her mama is Pocahontas, who was a Native American princess, and I'm sure this little girl is going to be quite the princess after being raised in the house. So she is Princess, and if I were a betting person, I'd bet that she'll make it now, although I wouldn't bet the farm on it. I'm still worried, but she is much better. She talks to me now, and she objects when I pick at the maggots. She jumps out of the laundry basket that I put her into, so I need to get a dog crate for her to sleep in tonight. She ran around the dining room and living room for a little while this evening, and now she's sleeping next to the basement door.
My friend from Chicago asked, "Is it really worth it? I know she's cute, but is it really worth it to spend all this time?" My answer at the moment was lame. "No one else is paying me to do anything else right now." But now that I've thought about it, I'd say, yes, it's definitely worth it. This is why I moved out here -- it wasn't to make money. It's Thoreau in my head again. I want to experience all of life -- not just a neat little package of experiences. Some parts of life are ugly -- this may be the ugliest so far. I can't think of anything more disgusting. I know I've never spent this many hours actively working to save an animal. Usually you give drugs, and they either work or they don't, and you just have to wait. In this case, we've spent hours picking maggots out of this little lambs skin. You can't put a price tag on it. It's ugly, and it's disgusting, but it's rewarding. I was originally going to pick up my friend and head to a winery, then come home for a dinner of goat cheese, homegrown chicken, green beans, and patty pan squash. So I didn't get to spend today at a winery. It'll still be there next week and next month. But today this little lamb needed someone to help her. How could I not have changed my plans?