This Week in Review

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.

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11 thoughts on “This Week in Review

  1. (((HUGS))) It has been a very strange year. We had a he/she born this year. Anal opening, vaginal opening and a penis with a hair sack and no testicles. It was supposed to be a new breeder. It will now be meat. 😦

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  2. What a shit storm you’ve had to deal with this week! I’m so incredibly sorry for the losses you’ve suffered!

    Can rams be fed ammonium chloride, like bucks, to prevent urinary calculi? If so, I think I have a good supply that I could share with you. We top dress it on their black oil sunflower seeds in the winter particularly because of the frozen water situation.

    We send all of our disease testing to Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab. I’m not sure if that might help you with associated disease testing costs for future or not. They seem to be fairly inexpensive for the small ruminant biosecurity screen (CAE, CL and Johne’s) with a $10 accession fee for the lot of samples, not per animal. They offer CL individually too. We draw blood ourselves and send in red top tubes. We have results within a week. If you ever decide to go this route and need help pulling blood samples, please reach out.

    I hope spring begins to bring better luck to you and your flock. I know you’re strong, but I often wonder how much a person can take. You are a great shepherd, and an amazing mentor. I’m grateful to be able to call you my friend. Please know that my thoughts are with you!

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    1. I will definitely be in touch about the lab. I would need help drawing samples, for sure. I just would very much hesitate to invite anyone with small ruminants here right now.

      I had no idea about ammonium chloride – I’m going to have to read up! As long as it doesn’t have copper (or very trace amounts)

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  3. Wow, so, so sorry. Thanks for sharing and keeping it open source, though. These issues are way too important not to share. With you in spirit. ❤ Jenn

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    1. Thanks Jenn- that means a whole lot to me. I admit that I am scared that I’m going to damage my reputation with my biohazard animals and my contaminated boots. I went to see a friend with goats and I asked her to provide me a pan of bleach to stand in directly from my truck. I stood for about three minutes.

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  4. I’m so really sorry to hear the bad news. I hope that the test results will bring some hope, though. It’s awfully sad to have to make such choice, but it’s for the greater good of the flock as a whole – not that it makes it any lighter. While I understand that it must be a bad feeling the thought of having perhaps sent some of your flock in unhealthy condition to another farmer, how would have you known? Should you have had any doubt about it, you would have not done it. And perhaps the same could it be said for other specimen coming to your flock. One never knows. All the best and e-hugs from far away

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  5. I’m not sure why these things happen to good shepherds — and even better people — but this proves that it does. And it doesn’t change my estimation of your skills one bit — I will continue to learn from you… we all will.

    I have a feeble suggestion, but it might help: when Brent and I were in California we visited Barinaga Ranch near Point Reyes. The shepherd there, Marcia Barinaga, talked at length about CL – she seemed incredibly knowledgable about it. I’m sure you have good sources of help and information, but you could always reach out to her on Facebook with specific questions. She gave us a lot of her time and is interested in mentoring new shepherds.

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