Content Warning- Real Farming.
If you’ve read my Facebook Page recently, you’d know that we had a really fabulous and successful lamb open house. My goal for the open house was to share the joys of lambing with the public, and I would say “Objective Achieved.”
I’m committed to running this farm open-source, so that others can learn from my experiences. In that spirit, I will share the following:
The Fourth Doctor died on Friday night. We checked him at 6 and he looked completely fine. At 10, as we settled down to sleep, we heard strange sounds from the ram shed. I threw some pants and a shirt on to go and look, and found him in agony, straining. We called the vet, 45 minutes away, and I sat with The Doctor, trying to comfort him in his suffering. Matt went for supplies and Mom came over from the B&B to lend emotional support. When the vet arrived, she diagnosed a Urinary Calculi blockage. We catheterized him to see if we could break up the blockage and allow him to pee, after cutting of his urethral process (really adding insult to injury for his situation). The catheter went all the way in, but nothing came out but a little blood. One option was to access his bladder via a hollow needle from the side and attempt treatment that way. When Cat, the vet, said that the odds of success were less than 50%, we decided that it would be unkind to continue treatment. The Fourth Doctor was suffering badly and continued to moan in pain under sedation. We said a hasty goodbye to him, with final hugs and kisses. Fred, the other ram, was distraught at his companion’s pain and confused to find himself living with the girls again.
So we were feeling pretty terrible, recognizing that having the ram’s water freeze over regularly probably contributed to this loss. Then we got worse news.
Valentine, the last of my first set of lambs born on my farm, tested positive for Caseous Lymphadenitis. Gut Punch. We had noticed a weird cyst on her cheek and her wool break earlier and decided to look after it. Well, the news came on Wednesday afternoon, and we’ve been in emergency mode since then.
- I cancelled all of my breeding stock reservations this year. No one would thank me for potentially introducing a serious disease into their herd, so all of my handsome little rams will stay here this year.
- Tragically, there is no good treatment for CL. I made the crushing decision to slaughter Valentine and Peggy, too. Valentine for testing positive, and Peggy for potentially showing symptoms. This leaves three lambs as orphans. Peggy’s lambs were already being fed by us, but poor Pencilvester is lost and distraught. Still, the risk of transmission if Valentine’s cyst were to burst was too much to allow.
- The vet came today to test the remaining sheep for CL. At $50/sheep, this will be a painful and expensive exercise, but well worth it. Our next steps will depend entirely on the results of the test. A few positive ewes can be culled with minimal negative effect, but if the illness is widespread, we will have to do a long-term control plan involving having a “clean” flock and a “positive” flock that will have to be biosecure and separate Here’s hoping for option 1.
- I have also contacted everyone to whom I’ve sold a sheep in recent years. Having to tell someone that their flock may have been exposed is worse even than receiving that news about your own flock. I would rather have my own flock potentially sick than know that I’ve exposed others, but in my case both are true. The feeling is terrible.
- All ram lambs will be future meat this year. I will keep the crossbred ewe lambs just to keep stock numbers growing and to see how they perform overall.
This experience reminds me that my commitment is to the flock, not to the individual. The sacrifice of Valentine and Peggy for the good of the flock overall feels terrible, but justified. I may be called to make more such decisions. Fortunately, CL is not highly transmissable from ewe to lamb, so the lambs may be okay. They are too young to test accurately, anyhow.
Recovering from this will be a multi-year process. Nevertheless, I will persist. I have tremendous gratitude for all of the responses I’ve had from friends and other shepherds helping reassure me that I’m not a terrible shepherd. It’s hard not to feel like a terrible shepherd after a week like this one.