A Flock of Sheep Chapter Thirteen: Treating a Sick Lamb

Eostre after about a week of treatment and TLC

I’ve been treating one of my lambs, Eostre, for what appears to be a parasitic disease. It’s hard to tell exactly what she had but the symptoms were frequent coughing, some foaming at the mouth, tooth grinding, and difficulty eating and drinking. She could have had a respiratory infection, an object caught in her throat, or parasites of the respiratory tract, either bot fly larva or lung worms. Not having a bottomless well of resources I have had to do my own diagnosis.

After looking in Eostre’s mouth and seeing that nothing was stuck in her throat I decided that she had either a respiratory infection or parasites of the respiratory tract. I bought antibiotics and a worming drug called ivermectin. The antibiotics made no difference in her condition which was getting worse. Eostre was barely eating and drinking and I could see she was loosing weight. She moved slowly, her ears and eyes were droopy, and she lay down in the tall grass a lot.

I built a small pen for Eostre in the shed and put her inside with fresh bedding, a water pan, a grain pan, and a box of hay and grass. I then measured out a half a dose of ivermectin and mixed it into some grain with a little extra molasses. I did this every day for three days, skipped a day and repeated it for three more days. This seems to have worked and the coughing has almost stopped. Her appetite began to improve and I was able to get her to drink water. I knew she was getting better when she began to chew her cud again. She also stopped grinding her teeth. I continued to feed her what I had been feeding the sheep all summer which is grass with clover, trefoil, dandelions, daisies, goldenrod, stitchwort, and pigweed. I also gave her small handfuls of aspen leaves. To her water I added a packaged electrolyte powder that had vitamins and minerals.

Sheep can be parasitized by a variety of worms: flat worms, flukes, tapeworms, and all sorts of roundworms. There are also sheep bot flies, one possible cause of Eostre’s illness, which lay already hatched maggots on the noses of sheep. The maggots migrate into the sinuses where they develop and mature. Once mature the maggot crawls back out, drops to the ground and pupates to later become an adult fly. Bot fly maggots cause irritation of the sinuses. Sheep bot flies also infest cows, deer, and horses. They can infest humans, too. The distraction and irritation they produce can lead to the sheep stopping feeding with consequent malnutrition.

Eostre’s coughing could have been produced by lungworms, too. Her symptoms seem to point to that more than bot flies. Lungworms are nematodes (roundworms) and there are several genera and species. Supposedly, they are host specific so that those of sheep will not infect deer and vice versa.

It is possible Eostre contracted this parasite from pasture contaminated with egg-containing feces. So far none of the other sheep have shown any sign of lungworm infection. I am still trying to figure out how it got here in the first place but suspect that three sheep brought here for a short time last fall may have introduced it. I later found out none of them had been wormed before being brought here and two were from low-lying pastures where snails, an intermediate host for some species of lungworms, live. My pastures are well drained and dry and not connected to wetlands or low areas where snails live.

Parasite infestation can be minimized by rotating pastures, keeping pens clean, and hay and cut forage in mangers off the ground. One of my pasture projects this summer has been to divide the pasture into four paddocks. So far, I have two paddocks enclosed and am working on the others. By setting up my pasture into four paddocks on a three week rotation I can decrease the chances of fecal-oral transmission of parasite eggs. It will not be a 100% prevention but it will lessen the chances of parasite infection by allowing eggs and larva to dry out and die waiting for a host. Cleaning the sheep pen and keeping their forage in the mangers is practiced, too.

For parasites of the digestive tract it is possible to control them by adding plants like wormwood, fever-few, balsam fir, aspen, and willow to their diet. These plants contain compounds like thujone, terpenes, and tannins that interfere with the metabolism of parasites. Care must be taken to give wormwood and fever-few in small amounts as they are toxic to mammals, too. Plants with tannins should not be fed in large quantities as tannins are anti-nutrients that bind to proteins and make them indigestable. I have been feeding aspen and willow, which contain tannins, and balsam fir, a source of terpenes, to my sheep several times a month as a supplement to their grasses and was glad to learn about these potential benefits. However, these herbal treatments may not work well if the parasite load is very high. Treatment with a drug specifically for parasitic worms at once a year is a good practice.

Eostre is better than she was but still coughs occasionally. But she is stronger and is able to be with the flock again. I am hoping that when I treat the whole flock that she will be rid of this disease.

Progress in the Garlic Patch and Elsewhere

This year the garlic got off to a late start. Most years it is up by the first week of April and nearly a foot tall by May. Not so this year. The spring thaw came later than usual and April was a cold, wet, snowy month. May hasn’t been much better either.

On May 7 the first feeble garlic shoots emerged from beneath their moldy mulch almost 40 days later than in earlier years. The heavy April snows had compacted the mulch into something like cardboard. As the snow melted it soaked the mulch creating ideal conditions for a film of white mold to grow over it. After a few days I decided to lift the mulch off the garlic so that the sun could warm and dry the soil. I also started my tractor and tilled up a wide strip on the west side of the garlic and planted six fifty foot rows of onion sets and a few red shallots. These are starting to come up now.

Garlic emerging from soil on May 14 after old mulch removed.
Garlic emerging from soil on May 14 after old mulch removed.

Lifting the mulch worked and more garlic cloves sprouted leaves. In a few more days almost all the cloves I had planted last fall were up. Now it was safe to mulch again so I spread a thin layer of about 20 wheelbarrow loads of spoiled hay over the garlic and onions. In seven to ten days when the garlic plants are taller I will add another layer of spoiled hay. This will keep the soil moist and cool and suppress weeds.

Garlic with new mulch on May 19.
Garlic with new mulch on May 19.

On Saturday, I tilled the corn patch once more to mix the manure and bedding more thoroughly. On Sunday afternoon, after feeding the sheep their grain and before the rain came, I tilled my potato patch, mulched it with spoiled hay, cut up five pounds of seed potatoes, and marked out the rows getting it all done by sunset. The rain clouds were gone Thursday (we’ve gotten almost 2 inches since Monday) and I was able to plant 200 feet of potatoes. On Saturday I am hoping to plant more potatoes and get the rows ready for my flour corn. The winter squash mounds are done and covered in a thick layer of rotted hay that is almost like soil but it is still too early for the squash which will be planted around June 5. I’m still working on getting the summer squash, string bean, and tomato areas fixed up.

It is finally warm enough by the house at least that I can leave the tomato seedlings outside. I don’t think I will bother selling any this year. The late spring set me back and I could not put any plants outside until May 18 so many of my seedlings did not grow large enough to be worth selling. I will still have plenty of plants for my use and for tomatoes to sell at the farm market later this summer. I tilled under last year’s mulch in the tomato area today but still need to put down a new layer of spoiled hay.

Elberta Tomato
Elberta Tomato

Apple trees and Siberian and Korean nut pine seedlings I ordered over the winter arrived in late March and early April. The plan was to plant them in the thawed ground the day they arrived like last year. Instead, I had to keep them in their shipping boxes and it wasn’t until last week that the ground had thawed enough to dig last week. Even then I had to pour hot water in some holes to melt the ice. On Tuesday this week I repaired the fencing around all the Siberian and Korean nut pines and the apple trees planted last year and put new fencing around this year’s plantings to keep the sheep from eating them. I am planting fruit and nut trees in the sheep pasture to make better use of the limited arable land. In the next few weeks I’m also going to be planting willows along the outside of some fences for a hedge to grow fresh willow branches for sheep forage.

Siberian Stone Pine shoots
Siberian Stone Pine shoots

On May 17 last week I picked up my order of thirty basswood trees from the conservation district. So far I have planted 25 trees including 4 in the sheep pasture. It’s been quite a job so far as the roots are over a foot long. The holes have to be dug deep and large just like the ones for the apple trees. I’m mulching these with old cardboard sheets covered with spoiled hay. My hope is that in several years they will begin to flower. Basswood flowers are very fragrant and the honey made from them is prized. But even if no honeybees use them they will still be nectar and pollen sources for wild bees.

The sheep have been wanting to get into their pasture for a couple of weeks now. I have been letting them out to graze for brief periods last week but the grass was not tall enough to leave them all day. On Tuesday (May 21) they got to spend the whole day in the small paddock after a week of only a half hour per day to get them adjusted to fresh food again. On Wednesday, after feeding them a pile of hay, I let the sheep out into the larger paddock for a few hours before sunset. Now they are in the pasture everyday feeding on fresh grass and clover whenever they want. Everyone seems fine and able to handle the fresh grass.

Some of the lambs in the pasture early Wednesday evening.
Some of the lambs in the pasture early Wednesday evening.

A Flock of Sheep Chapter Twelve: Buttercup has two lambs

Buttercup, my youngest ewe who just turned one year old this month, gave birth to two lambs Saturday afternoon. She had a ram with black wool and a ewe with white wool and maybe a few yellowish markings. For the last few days Buttercup had become very quiet and was spending a lot of time in the shed. By the third day I was worried that there might be a problem. Saturday was a tense day for me. Before the snowstorm that began on Wednesday (it ended Friday leaving 1 foot of wet snow behind) I was running low on grain for the sheep and chickens. I had just enough to get me through Saturday and with a little yogurt could stretch the chickens’ ration to Sunday. With the roads cleared late Friday I could now leave early Saturday to pick up 350 pounds of grains so I could mix up rations for my animals. I also needed to buy some groceries and emergency foods for the lambs should Buttercup have trouble birthing. So, I went to Moose Lake to get the grains, a 20 mile round trip, and then to Cloquet, 40 mile round trip, to get canned goat milk, cod liver oil, and a bottle of molasses. The milk, cod liver oil, and molasses were ingredients I would need for an emergency formula if Buttercup for whatever reason could not nurse the lambs. I already had a baby bottle on hand.

As with all my other expecting ewes I checked Buttercup frequently during the day. At 4:30 it was the time to feed the sheep their grain. I went to the pen and began pouring grain into the pans. Then I walked over to the shed where Buttercup was to give her some grain and there they were, two lambs, both standing and still a little wet. They had just been born. I stayed a little while until Buttercup got them cleaned off and began nursing.

Brennah’s surviving lamb seemed happy to have two lambs close to her size and nuzzled and sniffed them. Brennah seemed curious about them, too, and I wondered if she remembered loosing one of hers.

Today, the newest lambs are active and running outside sometimes. Brennah’s lamb is a week old today and she is growing well and becoming stronger. So, no more lambs until next year. Now it is about shearing sheep, watching the lambs grow, building a new larger shed with a lambing pen, adding more fence, and working on pasture improvement.

Brennah's lamb. She is one week old now.
Brennah’s lamb. She is one week old now.

A Flock of Sheep Chapter Eleven: A birth and a death

Sunday evening between 8:00 and 8:30 Brennah gave birth to twins, both ewes. It was a terrible night with rain, snow, and sleet being blown fiercely by easterly winds gusting to 30 mph.

For two days Brennah, who is a very quiet and calm sheep to start with, had been more quiet and subdued than is normal for her. She had been staying in a corner of the shed most of the time and did not want to eat much. On Sunday I saw her udder had become very large and taut so I knew that soon perhaps in 12 hours she would give birth.

I was checking on the sheep every few hours on Sunday but by 7 PM with no lambs born I figured that they would be born on Monday. But I decided to check one more time just before the sun had completely set. By then the storm had come and was picking up force. With flashlight in hand I peered into the shed. There was Brennah standing with one black and one white lamb. The white lamb was lying in snow that had blown in through a crack in the wall. She was unable to stand. I dried her off and moved her from the snow further inside the shed. Still she could not stand and was breathing poorly. The black lamb was also weak but could stand and Brennah was cleaning her and giving her lots of attention. She seemed to have given up on the white lamb. She was rejecting the new-born lamb and that meant it would not survive. I stayed in the shed sitting in the hay propped up against a post for a few hours to make sure Brennah accepted her other lamb. When it seemed she would I wrapped the weaker lamb in a towel and went back to the house for some sleep.

The next morning before sunrise I went back to the shed. The white lamb was still doing poorly but the black lamb was standing, although shaky. The white lamb was never able to stand up and could not feed. Later that day she died.

I am not sure why she was partially paralyzed at birth. One possibility was a lack of the mineral selenium in Brennah’s diet. A dietary lack of selenium can cause, among other things, poor muscle and nerve development resulting in paralysis. But it seems unlikely that a selenium deficiency was the cause. The grain mix I feed my sheep is composed of wheat from North Dakota and soy and corn from southern Minnesota both areas known for having adequate selenium in their soils and so in crops grown in those soils. There is also a nutritional supplement block with minerals in the shed that the sheep can freely eat from anytime. It made from soy and corn and sweetened with molasses. The soils here are not seriously low in selenium either so the sheep get enough from the pasture and hay.

Today, the Brennah’s surviving lamb is up and walking. She is also feeding. And now Buttercup, my youngest ewe, is behaving very quietly, not bleating at me for food (although I can hear Dixie hollering now) like she has for the last two months. Her udder is visible too and may be filling with milk in preparation for birth. She has also been sniffing Brennah’s lamb a lot today. So I am anxious and hoping for an uncomplicated birth and good weather.

A Flock of Sheep Chapter Ten: The New Lambs Are Growing Fast

Britt and her new lambs
Britt and her new lambs on March 30th
This is Britt with her lambs Eostre and Cernunnos on March 30th the day after they were born. They are seven days old now and are very active and growing. This was much more than I expected on the first day when Eostre, the ewe lamb, was wet and cold because Britt, who was in a confused state, did not clean her off as soon as she was born and probably did not nurse much she nursed that night. Even on the second day, Eostre was weak and frail but by the afternoon she had rebounded once she began to nurse. After just seven days the change in the new lambs is noticeable.

Faith’s lambs are also doing very well although they had a somewhat shaky start. Faith, like Britt, is a new mother and did not clean her lambs very well after they were born. In the last ten days they have grown and Faith has become better at caring for them. Britt’s and Faith’s lambs are starting to try hay and lick out the grain pans after the adult sheep are done. They have even eaten bark and buds from poplar twigs.

Dixie’s lambs were born on the first day of spring and are now sixteen days old. They are eating hay regularly, nibbling at grain, and drinking from the water bucket. Dixie is a good mother and keeps an eye on the other lambs, too, although she does not nurse any but hers.

Yesterday and today, more snow melted but the pasture is still under a few inches of it. The weather will be mild until the weekend when more snow is predicted to bury us. But soon the pasture will start to show exposed spots and then the adult sheep and the lambs can begin grazing on grass, clover and daisies, getting used to fresh food again gradually.

I’m still waiting for Brennah. She was bred or at least Aries was seen falling off of her a few times. And she is looking very large. Maybe this weekend but I’ve said that two times already. I suppose just wait and see.

A Flock of Sheep Chapter Nine: Britt Has Two Lambs at Sunset

By now I thought Brennah would have had her lambs. I am pretty sure she is pregnant. She looks large and round about the belly and I don’t think it’s from all that holiday food. Britt also looked large but not so much as to make me think she would give birth soon. I thought maybe sometime in mid-April. But on Friday morning Britt did not come out of the shed for hay. She was standing in there being very still and quiet. There were no lambs but I knew she was ready. I kept checking on her every hour. At 4:45 PM when I brought the sheep their evening grain Britt had not yet given birth. She didn’t even look like she was in labor. Was she going to lamb at night? I hoped not. This is Britt’s first lambing and if there were problems I would rather have daylight than a flashlight.

I went back to the shed a little before 6 PM and heard some faint bleating. A lamb had been born, a ram. He was white with scattered brown spots, a brown collar around his neck, and long silky hair on his legs. I heard more bleating but thought it was one of Faith’s lambs complaining about not being fed. Everything looked fine so I left to get water with molasses and salt for Britt. When I came back there was still that faint bleating. Britt was backed up against the wall. Behind her was a lamb, still wet and shivering. I rushed back to the house, got some towels, and rushed back to the shed to dry of the lamb. It was a ewe and so small compared to her brother.

Britt seemed very confused about what to do. She kept walking in circles trying to dry off the ram, ignoring the ewe lamb. I let Britt lick my hand which now was covered with the amniotic fluid and the scent of the ewe lamb. Then she suddenly realized what she had to do and began to lick the new lamb dry. Still, I had little hope that the ewe would survive the night. She was shivering a lot. I rubbed here gently to get her drier and hoping that friction of the towel would help her to get warm again. She tried to nurse but Britt would walk away. Getting that warm colostrum was important. For one thing its warmth would help to stabilize her internal body temperature.

I took a lot of hay and bedding and piled it around Britt and her lambs and placed the bucket of warm water nearby. The ewe seemed to be feeding so I left for a little while. At about 9 PM I went back. All the sheep were in the shed which was good as that would make the air warmer. But I really felt the new lamb would be dead by morning. I did not sleep well, waking up almost hourly.

In the morning as the sun was coming up I went back to feed the sheep their breakfast of grass and alfalfa hay and give them fresh water. The new ram was active but his sister was lying down and looked tired and weak. I put my finger in her mouth. It felt very warm so I knew she was not suffering hypothermia. I picked her up and put her under Britt to get her to nurse but Britt turned around. After a few tries I put the lamb back and prepared myself for the worst. When I came back an hour later the ewe was up, she was nursing, her eyes looked bright, and she seemed strong. By evening she seemed to be doing very well, nursing, walking around. I went to bed feeling a little more hopeful.

It is now Easter Sunday and Britt’s lambs are doing very well. The ewe lamb is smaller than her brother (she takes after her mother who is slight) but looks good. She has a few small brown patches on her wool which is white but may have other colors in it. I’m not sure if the coloration is staining from blood and other fluids when she was born. In time I’ll know better.

Dixie’s lambs have grown a lot in the 12 days since they were born and are starting to eat small bits of hay. Faith’s lambs have begun to nibble at hay but are not eating any. They have been playing with Dixie’s lambs jumping, running, and shoving.

I’ve named the newest sets of twins. Faith’s lambs are named Finnguala (Celtic for “fair-shouldered”) and Fiach (after the legend of “Raven” who was transformed into a white swan for 900 years and because crows flew overhead the day he was born here). Britt’s lambs are named Eostre, in honor of the season and time of birth, and Cernunnos, a Celtic male deity of fecundity which seems to be appropriate now that I have six lambs.

So now it’s just Brennah and maybe Buttercup who are next to have lambs. The weather will be cool in the next week with a chance of some rain and snow but the shed is dry and not drafty. I opened up one of the grazing paddocks late yesterday afternoon so that as the snow melts from it the adult sheep and the lambs will move in there. This will help the lambs get used to green grass from an early age and give everyone some room and reduce the shoving matches. It will be nice when they can get into the bigger paddocks.