I'm starting with the livestock's story, like I promised. I'll have to back up a bit - hindsight, and journals, reveal more than one realizes at the time...
I started reading my farm journal in '02. At that time it was just a brief log. I'd log in birthing data and required vet care. I'd note who did what to whom. Not a lot of detail or dialog, just facts. In '02 my sheep births were pretty normal. This was before the melon growers began renting adjacent properties. I had two Montadale ewes, two suffolks ewes and a Montadale ram. Elanore, one of my Mont ewes, bore triplets that year, everybody else had twins. This was expected and in line with their breed and genetic line. There were normal lambing issues, but nothing unusual.
In '03 things started to change. Elanore began the lambing season by presenting 4 lambs. That's remarkable for a Mont ewe. Jane Baaand, a suffolks ewe, who should only have 1 or 2 lambs produced 3. Rosie my other suffolks ewe went into labor on 3-13-03. It was an extremely difficult and unusual labor for a sheep. Normal labor and delivery is about 20 min. It's a very quiet, secretive event. Not this time. Rosie, the ewe, began complaining loudly at 4:30 p.m. At 5:00, she finally layer down and strained. She worked at it until 6:00 when an amniotic sack finally appeared. She continued restless, occasionally laying down and straining, and standing with her head down and straining. Ryan and I maneuver her into a small pen. We jump on her, and bear her to the ground where I do an exploratory. There is a massive, giant lamb in there. He's stuck tight. Ryan and I pull it. He's huge. Rosie is exhausted. She doesn't get up for 20 min. And the lamb doesn't get up for 40. This is a very bad sign in sheep farming. Rosie was yawning, a sign of pain. We gave her fresh water, she drank a gallon, and sweetened grain. The lamb was not vigorous, he was lethargic. I rub him ruffly, with towels, trying to get his heart working. When Rosie starts feeling better, she paws him. Before he got up she started back into labor. We made sure he nursed and left them alone. In 10 min. she delivered a small ewe lamb. 10 min. later, she delivered a second small black ewe lamb. She should only have produced a single or a twin. At the time, I thought it was 'good fortune.'
Clarise, my other Mont ewe delivered next. Like Rosie, the delivery was very atypical. She began by letting out a huge squall and carried on as if to say, "what the he'll is going on back there?!" She showed mucus and dripping bloody water all day. She'd begun at 7:30 a.m. and by 11:00 we penned her up. She hadn't gotten down and done any work yet, nor was she eating. I kept thinking She'd get to it any minute. She just kept wandering back and forth. At 8:00 p.m. I looked at her back side. Nothing was showing. I checked on her hourly, but she never got down and pushed. If she tried, she'd quit abruptly and jump up quickly. By 5:00 a.m. She was getting more consistant in her attempts, but was fatigued. When your ewe shows fatigue, that's supposed to be the sign to intervene. At this time she just laid down flat and looked at me with her head flat out on the ground as I approached and did a vaginal check. I discovered a large lamb, twisted and wedged in the canal, just inside. The feet and nose were jutting up into the rectal area. There was no perforation, but it was locked in tight above the vaginal opening. I twisted and pulled until I got the feet out. I stretched Clarise out in order to give the lamb more room. I couldn't budge it. I went back to the house and woke up Ron. It took all of Ron's strength to pull her out while I guided her twisted body to keep her from hooking up behind the rectal opening again. We spilled her out on the frigid ground in front of Clarise, who gallantly licked at her while Ron rubbed her down and I drenched my arm in betadine and went in after any other lambs. Surprisingly Clarise tried to push them out as I pulled. The second lamb that I pulled out was dead. It's cord was around it's neck and had apparently been severed the previous day. It was already beginning to decay. The next out was a small ewe and a then a tiny ram lamb. Both were very stressed, but alive. We placed them at Clarise's head. She licked them too. There was so much blood from the second lamb's ruptured cord that we had to move them all. Clarise couldn't stand on her own but we got her up and she staggered along with us. We tried to get all the lambs to nurse. The little ram lamb couldn't straighten his legs, he'd been so cramped in the uterus. He also kept shivering. I made some sweaters out of sleeves from old long under wear tops and put them on the lambs. I ran into town and bought a baby bottle. The little ram lamb had no suck. So I milked Clarise's colosterum into the bottle and forced in a little bit at a time. He finally stood up at 10:30 a.m. At 11:30 Claris finally got up on her own.
This was the first year I'd ever experienced these kinds of lambing problems. They were unprecedented. Later in July that second ewes lamb died, for no apparent reason. This was '03, the year they were spraying on Baccus's place. Back then, I didn't know about the spraying. I didn't know about any preparation that they may have done in the fall. I hadn't connected the dots. My neighbor who owned a field to the south of us liked to use a herbicide that contained Paraquat. I didn't connect that either. But the ram is put in with the ewes in October. This is the time of year that farmers prep, and spray their fields with herbicides. Mostly 2,4-D and the chemical that My other neighbor used.
'04 played out pretty much the way '03 did. Very difficult labors and deliveries, abnormally large lambs and too many per ewe. Jane had 4, two of which were dead. Rosie had 4 lambs, two were huge, one of which was dead. Clarise had 3, the first was huge, and dead, follows by two small ewes. Clarise showed signs of post delivery toxemia and possible calcium deficiency. I called the vet and he did an emergency calcium push. She was up and going again in a few minutes. Rosie produced 3 lambs. In mid July, same as last year, another lamb dies. No apparent reason. A week later, another one. Both were Jane's.
In '04, the melon farmer was farming Voile's center field, to the north of me and Mr. Smart's place beyond that. I was laying on the field pulling lambs as they sprayed 'fertilizer.' What I came to know later was that the fungicide that they applied with the fertilizer contained EDTA, a chelating agent. The first thing it grabs from the body is calcium. Not only was Clarise calcium deficient (hence the emergency push) but I was showing signs of calcium deficiency, and started taking cal/mag/zinc supplements. I didn't connect the dots. This is so typical of most of us. We just address the presenting incident and keep going forward without asking why.
'05 - was the year the melon farmers farmed the place behind me, on my northwest corner. It is at the back of my property and furthest from my sheep pastures. I did however put all the boys in that back pasture...much to my later regret.
Jane began by delivering 3 lambs, by herself, two were dead. Elanore had 1 ram lamb, a partially developed fetus and grossly enlarged placenta that looked like something out of a horror movie - which I discovered in the middle of a still, dark night, and 1 more ram lamb, 2.5 lambs. Clarise has 2, both difficult deliveries and weak stressed lambs, then much later a very sick lamb, that I just had to let die. Hours later she delivers another dead ram. Total of 4. (It's at this point that I begin the practice of uterine sweeping after any difficult birth.) Clarise is again sick and not responding well, I give 85 ml calcium borogluconate, sub Q, to her and oral cal/mag/zinc to all the other ewes. Definitely a calcium deficiency. At the time I think it's because they're having so many lambs. Clarise's lamb, 5 of '03, who later was named Lily, had a bad right hind leg. I gave her 6 ml of calcium, as well as 74 more to her mother the followingnday. Her leg improved. Rosie began her difficult labor with all the drama seen the previous year. She had a twisted lamb stuck. I'd gotten to the point where I intervened a lot sooner by this time. This lamb was so huge it coudn't get out of the uterus. It's toes were just sticking out, and it's head was still in. I had to reach in (wearing a breeders sleeve for those of you who are grossing out now) and massage the cervix working it back over it's head, using one finger hooked behind it's grinding plates to draw it's head forward. Bear in mind, this is happening in the dark, on the field. I finally got it's head out of the vagina enough that I could safely pull it. A ewe, she was lively and vigorous and sprang up immediately. Rosie had a second lamb that was also large and stuck. I gave her cal/mag/zinc gel. Then, I got Ron up and we sat behind her, with our feet planted on her hams, grasped his front legs and pulled with all our might. We drug that lamby out of his mother and up the full length of my body. He was actually almost as long, extended, as I was tall. I called him Monstro. He was nearly as tall as his mother. He was stressed.
Brax, the stud llama and Rambo, my Montadale ram, along with Sunny, our other show llama, not intact, were in that back pasture (3), next to were the melon farmer was "just putting down fertilizer." Remember, this happens is February and continues weekly through out the growing season. And trust me, I called and checked what he was applying, only to be assured that it was "just fertilizer."
One day Ron and I decided to put the ewes and lambs out on pasture 1, and move the boys up to the lambing pasture. It had less feed and they were needing less groceries. We went back to get them with halters. As we crossed pasture 2, high with blooming grass, Brax had a fit. It was horrible. He was chocking and foaming at the mouth. He collapsed on the field and was slamming his head repeatedly on the ground. He was crying out in distress. We managed to get him up and move him to the sheep pasture, where I immediately hosed him off. It seemed to help. It was a horrible event, on Brax, and on me. It left both of us shaking. On May 24, I witness a third event, worse than before. I called the vet. He came at once. We consulted and he admitted he didn't have a clue. He asked for my best guess. I said it looked like asthma, the kind I get, where your lungs fill up with fluid. ( which I now know is chemically induced.)So he gave him steroids, a dexamathoraphan (antihystimine) injection, which helped, and ivomec incase it was parasite induced and left me with the dex bottle and dosing instructions.
By August, we started seeing pink eye problems in our cattle. This is another thing we had never had a problem with before. The 'old farmers tale' is that it's due to grass pollen. What I've subsequently discovered... 2,4-D causes conjunctivitis, commonly known as 'Pink Eye.' Remember, melon growers use a lot of 2,4-D to treat the weeds between the rows and on the parimeter.
That's about all I can do for today, next time well get into '06, when the melon farmers moved back onto the property to the North, now owned by the 'Evils.'