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Today's word on journalism

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dueling masters on words:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

--William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

--Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961), on William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962)

A cold night and a fight for life with the lambs of Ewe 3022

Text and photos by Joseph Sheppard

March 26, 2006 | The two lambs in the pen with Ewe 3022 weren't yet an hour old. The white one prodded and jabbed at the ewe's udder, trying to find a teat. The other, still yellow and goopy, lay on the straw, shivering.

It had been a tough delivery. The lambs had been tangled inside the ewe and one had begun to come out backward.

Randall Apgood, a student instructor for Utah State University's sheep production class, pulled on shoulder-length rubber gloves, covered them with a lubricant and plunged his arm into the ewe up to his armpits as he struggled to sort out and turn the lambs. Once they were untangled and he found two front legs, he began to pull.

Derek Trauntvein, an animal science major, held the ewe's head to hold her still. She wasn't too happy about any of this, he said.

Trauntvein and Apgood are spending the night at the barn as an assignment for the production class. Students in the class take turns staying at the barn from dusk to dawn in case the ewes experience dystosia, or difficulty birthing. Trauntvein and Apgood will pass the night in limbo between a cot in the office and shivering through their turns at hourly checks on the sheep.

It's a good thing they were there. They were able to pull these two lambs out and probably saved their lives in the process. But one of the lambs isn't in the clear yet. It is matted with goop and has a dark yellow stain across its stomach -- iodine used to cauterize the wound from when the umbilical cord was pinched off.

The ewe, steaming afterbirth still hanging from her, steps on the lamb, not seeming to notice it. The barn, although heated, can't have cleared 30 degrees by much on this bitterly cold night. Outside it is about 5 degrees. Some ewes aren't too bright, Trauntvein says. This one hasn't even cleaned one of the lambs off yet. He picks up his limp patient and carries it into the office to try to warm it up.

On the way to the office he passes a whiteboard where the thought of the day is written: "The vast majority of lamb deaths can be prevented by a watchful shepherd. Check to be sure lambs are nursing and not hypothermic. A chilled lamb is a dead lamb."

Trauntvein places the lamb in a box with a heater where it lays shivering, its sides heaving.

Back in the barn, the lamb's mother is given a shot to help her pass the afterbirth quickly. She will eat the afterbirth, says Adam Summers, president of the USU Sheep Club. He and his wife, Eden Summers, have joined Apgood and Trauntvein on the night watch. The ewe licks off the lambs and eats the afterbirth to hide the scent from predators, such as wolves, he says. Ewe 3022 and her lambs are in one of several "jugs" or pens in the barn. Perhaps 20 ewes with their lambs are fenced in on one side of the barn, while 70 more are on the other side of the barn and in the adjacent barn. Most of these ewes have a green dot on their back, indicating that they are pregnant.

A garage door is partially open to allow the pregnant ewes to pass from one barn to another. About 20 ewes crowd under a large heating vent. The ewes have been roughly shorn and are covered with wooly uneven ridges. Eden Summers, the "first lady" of the Sheep Club, explains that they are shaved before lambing because the heavy wool gets in the way. That is kind of sad because it is so cold, she says.

Adam Summers scans the herd for other ewes ready to deliver. When they're ready, they separate from the herd and stop chewing their cud. They develop a sort of hourglass shape and paw at the ground and try to get comfortable, he says. The teats get really swollen and "if you're lucky," they'll start dripping, Summer says.

"This is a possible candidate," Summers says, pointing to ewe 320. The ewe is wandering around the barn uncomfortably, pawing at the ground. Summers points out that her udder isn't swollen and speculates that she probably has mastitis. "Yeah, she will lamb tonight," he says.

He returns to the office with Apgood and Trauntvein. On their way back they talk about a ewe that bled to death earlier that week. Summers interjects, "I'll tell you a story about internal bleeding..." and the door closes behind them.

All is quiet now in the barn, except for the snorting of sheep that have straw caught in their nose. Steam rises in the breath of each animal. A llama sleeps near the door of the barn, here to protect the sheep. The air is thick with the odor of sheep, hay, and blood, an odor that sticks to your clothes hours after you leave. Ewe 320 makes her way to the group of sheep clustered around the heating duct and kicks irritably at the ewe in front of her and forces her way into the center of the group.

In the office, the newborn lamb in the box has stopped shivering and has begun to move around. "In about a half hour that lamb will be ready for the elements and his mother," Summer says.

Sure enough, not much later Trauntvein carries the lamb back to its mother's jug and sets it inside. Its mother now assumes its duties and the lamb staggers around the jug as the ewe tries to lick it off. The lamb searches under the mother's legs for a place to suck. Trauntvein says this is a good sign that the lamb is going to be OK.

The lamb bloodies its nose in the mother's still-hanging afterbirth. Then there are audible sucking noises. The lamb has found the teats. Its little tail begins wagging excitedly in circles.

Trauntvein bends down to see and says, "Yeah, he's sucking good. He says of the lambs, "These last two might not have made it if something hadn't been done," and heads back to the office where he may get another hour or two of sleep.

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