Amy Hill had developed a close bond with her sheep over the years. And like any devoted friend, she knew when there was something seriously wrong with her pal. So when the sheep, Dotty, experienced complications with a pregnancy, Hill was sure that the animal was about to die. But then the straw beside her moved, and she couldn’t believe her eyes.
Amy Hill runs Snowy River Farm in Nova Scotia, Canada, and raises animals that graze on pastures rather than soy or corn products. She rears pigs, chickens and sheep for organic and free-range produce.
In fact, Hill bought her first sheep, Dotty, ten years ago. And with her gentle temperament, the animal quickly won a spot in Hill’s heart. She wrote in a Facebook post in March 2017, “Dotty started my love of sheep. She is my best ewe friend and she means the world to me.”
Dotty had lambed before and so had some of her offspring. Hill, therefore, was no stranger to sheep pregnancies. So when she saw pregnant Dotty in distress one February morning, she knew something was seriously wrong and that she had to act quickly.
Hill wrote on Facebook, “I walked up the sheep pasture for morning chores and found my beloved Dotty on her back, eyes rolling in her head and struggling to breathe. I ran to her, flipped her over onto her front and held her upright while I called the vet.”
Struggling to keep her emotions in check, Hill explained Dotty’s condition to the vet. The sheep was unable to stand on her own, which, combined with her other symptoms, led to a diagnosis of pregnancy toxemia. Also known as ketosis, it’s a low blood-sugar condition that frequently results in death.
In a race against time, Hill rushed to the house and grabbed whatever she could to help stabilize Dotty’s blood-sugar levels. Feeding her an apple and molasses, and then later with the help of three-times-daily doses of glycol, Hill gradually watched Dotty return to her old self.
Pregnancy toxemia most commonly occurs in sheep carrying multiple lambs, though Katahdins – Dotty’s breed of sheep – do not usually produce large litters. Indeed, Dotty herself had never lambed more than two. But as Dotty was impregnated by a larger breed this time, Hill feared that the strain on her would be too great.
Although Dotty was showing signs of improvement, Hill knew that she had to keep a close watch on her. Realizing that Dotty was near to giving birth, she would check in on her throughout the day. Before long, however, Hill’s hope for the lambs began to fade.
“[Dotty’s] udder was full, tail head loose. I checked on her multiple times a day just waiting for her babies to arrive,” Hill wrote on Facebook. “But they didn’t arrive. Slowly her tail head tightened up and her udder started to shrink. I felt her stomach for movement but there was nothing.”
After talks with the vet, Hill believed Dotty couldn’t cope with the size of the lambs growing inside her. And with her darling Dotty’s body shutting down, Hill was convinced that the lambs had died in the womb. Dotty’s situation looked bleak, and Hill was heartbroken.
“The thought that we may need to put her down all of a sudden has consumed me since Saturday,” Hill wrote. “We gave her a shot on Monday as a last effort, hoping it would allow her to pass the lambs on her own so we didn’t need to worry about infection.”
As time passed, however, nothing changed. And despite Hill’s best efforts, she feared that the babies had died before they were born and that their mom wouldn’t be too far behind. Hill consequently prepared herself for what she believed would be one final day with her beloved Dotty.
After a tough night fearing the worst, Hill woke to begin that final day with Dotty. She left her daughter in her dad’s care so that she could focus on paperwork and making the best of her last moments with her “best ewe friend.” But not everything was as she expected.
Hill wrote on Facebook, “I didn’t sleep much last night and slowly walked up the hill to the barn this morning, getting ready for a day of sad cuddles with my girl.” However, as she approached the barn, something wasn’t right. To her surprise, Hill noticed something moving in the straw.
“As I walked around the corner I noticed a new lamb walking with the others,” Hill later recalled. She couldn’t believe her eyes. “I ran to the pen and counted FOUR new babies, all alive and all standing around, covered in their mother still, wanting to drink!”
Moments earlier, Hill had been resigned to losing Dotty entirely. But now, against all the odds, her dearest sheep had produced four new lambs. Not only was the multiple birth unprecedented for Dotty, but it’s also unusual for her breed as a whole.
Hill explained, “Katahdins are not known for large number of babies. Dotty gives us two religiously, [Dotty’s daughter] Penny has given us triplets before. But NEVER four! Dotty was just standing there, looking completely empty and begging for treats as she usually does.”
Since sheep are only able to feed two lambs at a time, Hill had her hands full with bottle feeding every day. It was a job, however, that she was happy to take on given how close she’d come to giving up all hope. Dotty and her newborns survived the ordeal – and it left Hill highly emotional.
“I am floored. I won’t lie, I cried for a good half hour when I found them this morning,” Hill said. “The relief that my girl is still with us and that she has blessed us with four beautiful babies – three boys, one girl – is overwhelming in the best of ways.”