Progress

20170409_122530So we’ve gotten some results from the first round of testing.

Little Moose and Marianne are on the low side of positive for CL. Bobolink is also on the borderline between exposed and potentially positive.  Obviously, these are not the results we wanted to see.

I admit that I considered some pretty drastic action.  Do we need to depopulate the flock completely and start over?  Do I need to throw away all of my sheep keeping supplies?  It was hard to look at the matter calmly.  I worried that I wouldn’t find the balance between doing too much (eradicating the flock) and doing too little and permitting CL to persist in the sheep.

So I turned to some shepherding and goat-herding contacts.  People who have shipped all of their beloved animals and started over, people who are good at thinking through complex conundrums, people who just lent a sympathetic ear.  Gradually, I calmed down, and Matt and I thought through a reasonable plan.

Here is our CL elimination plan:

  • Retest the negative ewes twice over the summer season to confirm that they are negative.
  • Keep and monitor the positive ewes until weaning. Cull immediately if any cyst develops.
  • Vaccinate all lambs, all-CL negative adults, and vaccinate any incoming animals.
  • Maintain a comprehensive vaccination schedule for 3 years, but stop vaccinating young stock in year four.  Test all un-vaccinated young stock at age 1 and age 2.  Continue routine testing until all stock are clean for two years.  Then institute random testing of 10 animals/year until clear for 5 years total.  Any positives during this time will be culled.  Any animals developing abcesses or inexplicably losing body condition will also be culled immediately and without question.  All abcesses will be tested post-mortem.
  • This plan can be shortened if results are good, or prolonged if CL persists.

Perhaps most importantly:

  • Matt and I are buying a farm this year and moving out of Williston.  Our goal is to finally expand and grow this operation into a profitable business that maintains one or both of us without off-farm labor.  This is our golden opportunity to eliminate persistent CL in the sheep’s environment.  We will destroy all wooden items and other porous items that cannot be sanitized.  We will sanitize all non-porous items according to veterinary recommendation, or destroy them if that is recommended.  Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about the experience of trying to sanitize my truck.

I ran this plan by my discussion network, and it is being considered by our veterinarian currently.  I am optimistic that we can keep this year’s lambs, and that we’ll be able to responsibly introduce stock from other farms this fall so that next year’s flock will reach an economically significant size.  We are currently looking to purchase about 15-20 registered Bluefaced Leicester ewes to really launch our operation.

The Aftermath

I took Valentine and Peggy to Vermont Livestock yesterday morning.  I felt deep shame.  I like to prepare for bringing sheep on their final trip.  I want to do it knowing that their lambs are raised and independent, the sheep are fully healthy, and that the sheep are at peace knowing that the business of their lives has been completed.  To take ewes away from their young lambs, not having enjoyed the summer’s grass and sunshine?  It doesn’t feel right or good to me.  I said farewell to them as they were penned up in the waiting pens in the slaughterhouse.  Some gorgeous Angus cattle were ahead of them in line.  I will miss them a great deal.

In the remaining flock, the motherless lambs were starting to understand their situation.  Gazorpazorpfield and Krombopulos Michelle were already depending on us for milk, as Peggy just couldn’t provide enough.  Pencilvester misses his mother Valentine very much but has begun to accept the bottle.  Lark seems to be looking after him somewhat.

On the bright side, Marianne wrapped up our lambing season with a ewe and a ram lamb, tiny, but bright and ready to nurse.  That provides us with one or two ewes from each of our BFL starter flock!  So far, all look good, healthy, and up to breed standard.  Two vigorous, healthy lambs help me remember to look forward, not back.