Monday, February 8, 2010

Treating a ewe who collapsed

I'm the first person to admit that I don't know much about sheep.  Actually, I don't know much about ruminants in general -- cows, sheep, goats -- it's all new to me. 

Each species has its own set of requirements, husbandry practices that work for it, and weird quirks. I have really appreciated a local blog written by Michelle, the collie farm, for the bits of information she's given me on sheep.  She has a flock of the same breed as I do, and really takes it seriously, and I vicariously use her research for my own flock. 

Part of farming is just being there.  Every day I check on each animal in my care, and make sure that they've got everything they need.  I also note their general condition, whether they are hanging out with the other animals of their species, and whether they've got any issues -- limping, that sort of thing. 

So on thursday of last week I counted my sheep and noticed I was missing one.  looking around I found her out in the field, laying on her side, all by herself.  The other sheep were doing sheep things in a flock. 

I walked over to her, and she didn't raise her head to look at me as I approached, but was alive, which i was pretty happy about.  At least I have a chance to to something, but I have no idea what her ailment is.  Running my hands over her, she's not skinny, but her breathing is labored and she's pretty pregnant.  My ram got into a pen with a couple of my sheep earlier than I would have liked, and she was one of the sheep that probably got bred then. 

No obvious injuries; wool is in good shape, no discharge from the mouth, anus or vagina, or eyes.  No wounds, no blood.  Just laying on the ground.  I try to get her up, but she's down.  Hmmm...

I go and get the tractor and put her into the bucket and carry her over to a little shed.  I bed her on some hay so that she's got dry stuff under her.  I don't know how long she's laid out there; could have been since yesterday.   I don't think that water will do her any harm, and so I go get one of the most useful first-aid implements I've found for the farm:  A turkey baster. 
For feeding a piglet or getting water or any sort of fluid into a resisting animal, there's really nothing that works better.  I've used it to irrigate wounds, to rehydrate my ancient housecat, and in this case, to put a quart of water into a sow that probably needed it.  I'd suck up some water and then dribble it into her mouth -- she started licking it, and I was able to get her a good drink without too much trouble.  What took her down? 

I called the fellow I bought the sheep from, and he speculated that it might be the stress of pregnancy, and that maybe I wasn't feeding them enough high-quality feed, and suggested that I get her some Propylene Glycol to see if that boost would help her get back on her feet.  I called a local vet who concurred (and said that a farm visit would cost me $300), and I located a gallon of this stuff, and started treating her with 30ccs every 8 hours.  Water, glycol, water, glycol.  After 12 hours of this she was trying to sit up, and I brought in a bale of hay and propped her up onto her chest, and the next day she was standing and moving around and eating.  The picture above is her rejoining the herd after I kept her for another two days of this regimen. 

I've ordered 1,000lbs of grain, and will be putting the whole flock on 2lbs a day in addition to hay and forage for the rest of their pregnancy. 

Really glad she's better.  Hope there's no relapse. 


Anonymous said...

While I commend you for you efforts you must have a LOT of cash to burn through. Seems like every other day one of your animals is getting sick from something that could've been prevented, or you're making a costly mistake that could've been avoided.

I hope this is not the case, but at this rate I hope those pockets are deep for I don't see this farm sustaining itself anytime soon. You ought to do through research prior to embarking on your miscalculated endeavors.

Wishing you the best.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you did the right thing and that it worked! Yay! I have this page bookmarked in my sheep bible (Paula Simmons Raising Sheep the Modern Way)- page 152, because I know that once they're down, you have to act quick, and it's hard to remember the details when you're in a panic. In case you don't have this book, Paula says:

Ketosis or Calcium deficiency?
It can be difficult to tell the difference... Toxemia can be accurately diagnosed by ... ketone test strips from the drug store [for diabetics]. But this disease can be a complicateding factor in a case of milk fever, so a diagnoses does not rule out calcium deficiency. You can make an intelligent guess by reviewing the circumstances: If it is before lambing and there is any possibility that the ewe may not have been fed properly in the last month [read: insufficient calories b/c twins are squishing her stomach], it is probably toxemia.

If it is after lambing and the ewe is providing good milk for twins or triplets and has adequate feed with molasses, it is more likely to be primarly milk fever, but could have a trace of pregnancy toxemia as a complication.

She also says... ketosis breath smells like model airplane glue, sheep is dopey, sleepy, dull-eyed, tooth-grinding. ... Milk fever causes exciteability, muscle tremors, stilted gait, staggering, staring eyes and then collapse. Supposedly with either, if you've picked the right treatment and it's not too advanced, recovery is rapid and clear.

Keeping a gallon of propylene glycol (for ketosis, given orally, as you did) and a vial of calcium gloconate with syringes (for milk fever, intravenous- if you know how, intraperitoneally -2nd best, or sub-cu) on hand arms you to jump on either condition fast. Both are cheap.

I think even if you lord over your feed carefully, it can still happen, if a less dominant ewe gets shoved out of the feed more, if she's bigger than your average sheep and needs more than the rest of them, or she's supporting a load of really big twins or triplets.

These are things that keep me awake at night, knowing that all the spreadsheets in the world can't ensure that each one is getting enough food, and also not too much to cause prolapse! It's at these times it helps to remember that even sheep veterans say "it's hard to keep them alive!" :-D Good luck, I hope she's ok and the lambs come out ok too!

Jake said...

I wouldn't take it to heart that a ewe collapsed. Having raised many breeds of sheep in my life, as well as cows and goats, I'd say they are the least hardy of all the ruminants to be found on a traditional farm. In fact, as I read your post, I found myself cataloging all the various things it "could have" been that I've experienced. You did probably do the right thing. I definitely wouldn't ever call a vet out for a ewe. Have you ever had a pregnant ewe cast itself in the field? That is one common possibility and can mimic all kinds of dietary imbalances if not caught immediately. It's basically a vaso-vagal response due to the ewe's circulation being cut off. At any rate, don't take Anonymous' comment to heart. Sheep probably have the steepest learning curve of any animal, and sometimes can be the toughest to keep healthy. I love reading your blog---keep up the good work.

Bruce King said...

Thank you Jake. The hardest thing about sheep is that a sheep that is hale and hearty, to my eye, looks about the same as one that's a step from deaths door. With basically identical animals, for me, it's hard to tell them apart and about the only way I notice something is when one gets out on its own for some reason, like this one.
Since this happened I've switched my hay supplier to what I think is better-quality hay, and I haven't had these problems in the last two years, so it might have been something as simple as calorie needs during pregnancy overwhelming the value of the hay.

I appreciate your comment on the blog. I'm always happy to hear someone gets enjoyment out of it.