The Whiting Farm in West Tisbury hasn't lost a single lamb this season, but at the evening feeding on Friday, March 13, there was one little one who needed a little bit of help.
"We've had 19 so far, and God willing, haven't had any problems, even though we've had some pretty nasty weather," said Tara Whiting, explaining how smoothly things had gone this spring despite some less than optimal conditions. Just then, she noticed an ewe that was in labor.
Photo by Danielle Zerbonne
"You see that one, right there? She is about to have one," Ms. Whiting shouted. "Once you see them really start to push like that it should be pretty quick. A birth usually only takes around 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish. If it takes longer than that you want to start keeping an eye out."
Ms. Whiting watched as the ewe, lying on her side, went into a contraction. "Usually they don't look so agitated," said Ms. Whiting, taking out her cell phone. "I think I might need to help her out."
Ms. Whiting called her cousin Bea Whiting, who arrived quickly, having already been on her way for the evening feeding. With gloves on, they laid down the ewe. The feet of the lamb were clearly visible, but the head had yet to emerge.
"It usually doesn't take this long once you see the feet," Tara Whiting explained. "The head is usually right there with them, and it only takes a minute for them to plop out."
While Tara held the ewe, Bea knelt down, gripped the lamb's legs, and pulled him out, wrapping his small body in a towel. The mother wandered over to the corner, looking dazed.
"He's alive," Bea exclaimed, a bit out of breath herself. "Now let's see if she will take him." She walked up and presented the tiny lamb to his mother, who began cleaning off the afterbirth immediately. "That's lucky. They should be fine, but we will check on them later."
Throughout the labor, a small lamb with a blue mark on his back had been following the ewe around the pasture.
"The blue mark lets us know he is one we have to bottle feed," said Tara, explaining the ewe was not his mother. "Sometimes the mother just rejects them. It happens mostly when they have twins, but still not very often. The older ewes seem to know they are having twins, and go into the corner to have them so the first one can't wander off while the second one is born. But sometimes, the younger ones will have the babies out here, and I think that one just wandered off and the mom forgot he was hers."
The lambs at the Whiting Farm are among the first to be born on Martha's Vineyard, partially because the farm has a large barn where the newborns can keep warm at night.