No matter how many safeguards you put in place, when you deal with animals you sometimes have bad things happen. Last night at barn bedcheck we found a 3 day old lamb with a broken leg. She and her mom were the most recently added into the mixing pen, and was fine at 8 PM. When we came in at 10 we saw her struggling and realized her left hind leg was grotesquely broken, although not through the skin. A fast call to the vet's office and a 40 minute drive later we had a sedated lamb and an xray showing a reasonably clean break, but the vet couldn't pull the bone ends into opposition by hand because the tendons had contracted so much already. Choices. Do the best she could manually, splint it and hope the bone knits at all and is straight enough that the leg would be moderately usable. Good chance it wouldn't work well. Other option is surgically pinning and plating the bone. Couldn't be done until late the next afternoon after the scheduled surgeries. That was a long time for a little lamb to sit alone in a stainless steel cage, and the cost wouldn't be insignificant either. Either option also included the complication that there may be nerve damage that would cause the foot to knuckle over and not plant properly. Maybe circulation issues that would cause necrosis in the tissue. And there were the more immediate thoughts of post op care - bottle feed the lamb, keep it somewhere safe and restrained enough that the leg would heal, but then integrate her back into the flock and hope the leg could stand up to the steady activity a grazing animal in a field would give it. Suppose she always had a limp that made her lag behind the flock or get pushed around by aggressive members? Could she carry a heavy load of lambs?
Midnight is a lousy time to make life and death decisions for your animals, but if euthanasia was the right thing to do, doing it while she was still under sedation was the kinder way to go. We struggled with this while the minutes ticked by and the lamb slept, free of pain for the first time in 2 hours. In the end, we chose to let her go. The outcome was too uncertain, her chance of ending up still crippled too great.
Sometimes the best decision you can make for your animals is one that's painful for you but that's a price you pay when you're a shepherd..