I really enjoyed reading about David Cameron helping to deliver lambs on his neighbour's farm in Oxfordshire in today's Mail on Sunday. Its a pity that he spent only 15 minutes in the lambing shed and that his offer to pull out the lambs himself was not accepted by Julian Tustion. It would have been a lovely Xmas story. It would also have been a great experience for David. I've sorted out many thousands of difficult births, of both cows and sheep, during my lifetime, and it never stopped being satisfying - especially when things became complicated.
Of course, it doesn't always turn out well, depending what the problem is. In this case it seems to have been a case of the lamb being wrongly presented. Normally the lamb would emerge a bit like a human diving into a swimming pool - its front legs and head coming together. Even then problems can arise if the lamb is a 'single' and is just too large. If the lamb is presented with just one front leg and its head, it can be pulled out, as long as the other front leg is trailing backwards, and not bent with its knee coming forwards. If the front legs are presented without the head at all, the lamb has to go back and the head retrieved. Sometimes, especially if the ewe has been striving for a long time, the head can be difficult to reach. Now if the head is coming on its own, there can be real problems, because the head swells up quickly and it can be the devil of a job to push it back - but back its got to go. Otherwise it would have to be cut off, which is what I've done if the lamb has died. We also have to be careful when there are two legs presented to ensure that its not the back legs coming first. I always check by feeling for the lambs tail. Lambs born backwards are fine if the birth is assisted (and therefore quick). Unassisted , the lamb can sometimes be out, but its nose and mouth still within the ewe, thus being suffocated. The worst cases of all are when the lamb is coming back first - no legs or head. Problem here is that it takes an experienced eye to notice that the ewe is actually trying to 'lamb' at all. There is nothing in sight and if intervention is not sufficiently early, the lamb will die within the womb. Of course, everything becomes much more complicated if there are two or three lambs and you cannot be sure which legs and head belong to which lamb - especially if one (or two) are coming forwards and one (or two) are coming backwards at the same time. And it becomes a deeply unpleasant task for the shepherd if the lambs have been dead inside the ewe for a few days. Because they rot and come out in pieces. This can make the ewe rather sickly and she will need antibiotics. It is a pity that David Cameron did not have a week to spend on his neighbour's farm. He would have learned so much about how to successfully increase the size of his flock.