Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Six Sick Sheep

Well, really there are just three. But when you come back from a teeny tiny four-day camping vacation to a flock that-- yet again!-- chose that very same span to do something unexpected... and this is your first real go round with the dreaded barber pole worm it might as well be six sick sheep. Hell, it might as well be the whole flock.

I cannot fully describe how rotten it feels to find a couple of lambies dull, slow and saggy with bottle jaw. (Bottle jaw is a swelling (edema) caused by a heavy parasite load. Basically, the barber pole worms nestled in the poor little guys' stomachs are sucking them dry.

And just this weekend, while toasting a marshmallow to perfection around our campfire, I remarked to Dan that we were "really lucky" that we hadn't had any serious parasite issues and that some "other" shepherds were losing lambs left and right due to the miserable weather pattern. (Well I didn't say "left and right" exactly, but I was a bit too smug. That's for sure.)

Now, we've been very conservative with our worming regimen. We don't want to dose the sheep so fervently that we evolve strains of super-resistant parasites. We use the FAMACHA method to determine which sheep to worm and when. We rotate pastures as much as is possible on our little spread, and we worry. (Well, I worry. Dan says "Worrying is just praying for something you don't want to happen." Of course, he's right. And of course, I worry anyway...)

Until now, we've gotten away with a few doses of Ivermectin at the height of the season. (Ivermectin, one of the weaker dewormers, is the "first defense".) But a year ago, I stocked up on 10 doses of the more powerful Levamisole to keep in reserve. You hear enough barber pole worm horror stories and you start to wonder...

So anyway.... we returned home late Monday night, the kids all asleep in the back of the van after a busy, Adirondack day, and I ran down to the barn to check on the sheep. Everything seemed fine at first, oh they were LOUD (Never a good sign...) but nothing seemed amiss.

Then I noticed "Clowny Boy" hanging back. Not terribly unusual. Lambs will do that in a crowd. I was just about to head inside when he turned and I caught sight of the wobbly "jowls" that had sprouted under his chin. Although I had never seen bottle jaw in person, I knew it immediately, and my heart sunk. I trudged up to the house for my Levamisole reserves.

Dan had already tucked the kids in, so the two of us headed back to worm Clowny Boy. It wasn't hard to catch him, and being the sweet-natured little guy he is, he took his dose of Levamisole, his selenium/e gel and his quadruple squirt of Nutridrench in stride. It was all-but-the-kitchen-sink time at Maggie's Farm.

It was also about eleven-thirty by then. But we thought we better have a look at the other lambs, and sure enough, Champ had the tell tale jowls as well. And his sister Carlotta had a budding lump that could have developed into the condition as well..... Ugh!

Shepherding is all about taking care and when-- for whatever reason-- your shepherding leads to this kind of thing, it is heartbreaking. Truly. I believe we have a good program here, a careful worming regimen that includes minerals and supplements and the types of things that help sheep fight off this sort of horror. But lambs are most vulnerable, not having developed the tolerance of adult sheep and requiring more protein for growth. And this season has been a miserable combo of heat and rain-- perfect conditions for a storm of parasites.

I slept on and off that night, dreaming sick and dead lambs. At one point, I phased into logy half-sleep, convinced we should give up the flock entirely. At another, I imagined converting into "Maggie's Poultry Farm" because, my dozing mind believed, "Turkeys don't get sick and die". When six o'clock rolled around and I climbed out of bed, I fully expected to find a couple of dead lambs in the barn.

Clowny was noticeably better though, and Carlotta seemed fine. And Champ? Well, he still looked a mess. But in the bright-shiny sheep-not-dead morning, I didn't feel as inclined to give up the farm thing. But I did feel clueless.

I called Barb Webb (always amazingly helpful) and she gave me a (small) list of additional supplies. We were to build a creep so that the lambs could be supplemented with grain while their mamas remained outside. We were to try a little soybean meal. We were to keep on keepin' on.

That night (Once it was cool enough to work the sheep) we re-checked the flock and wormed a little more aggressively than we had in the past. Some didn't need it and some did, and we will continue to be vigilant and wait out the dog days of summer, hoping that this will be the last barber pole emergency we see for a while. In times like this, I recall some more experienced farmer once telling me "Where there's LIVEstock, there's DEADstock." Shepherding, as I said, is all about taking care. But it is also about living a bit closer to this very type of hard reality, about knowing death as well as birth, about risks and careful minimization of risks.

Sheep get sick. Perhaps we'll get used to it. But then again, do we want to?


Anonymous said...

Hang in there, Perri. You'll come through. And, just so you know, turkeys do get sick and die. And, somehow, it's not any easier just because they're big ugly witless birds. (Glad you had a good camp-out -- you can't carry the farm concerns with you every minute!)


P said...

Thanks Skep. I'm feeling better as they do.

(How easy we forget...)


Christy said...

That is scary! I do worry about when we get livestock and dealing with illnesses.

P said...

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet when I grew up then went off in a whole other direction. Who knew I'd come full circle? A big chunk of farming is health and nutrition, giving shots, treating wounds, etc etc. I am a sort of a vet... an untrained, unpaid one anyway.

And there is SOOO much to learn!

woolies said...

I used to want to be a vet too. With ten animals on our little ranch, vetting does come into play. One of our dogs had to have major surgery 2 weeks ago,(I left that to the real vet) and it did not totally fix the problem. More x-rays in order. We worm our horses ourselves, and give them their yearly shots too. One of our horses had an eye infection - went to the feed store and bought antiboitic eye ointment, had to keep after it for over 10 days, but it finally improved. My first horse went blind in one eye cause he was not on my property, and by the time a few days had passed with no treatment, it was too late. so I'm glad that all my animals are with me! I have a friend with a fiber ranch (, just down the road. So when I want my fix of goats and sheepies, I visit her.