We called the vet yesterday afternoon for two sick sheep.
One of our Border Leicester ewes lost her ability to use her hind legs a few days ago. Earlier this year, we had treated her for hoof issues. She limped for a while, even after the hooves had healed. We assumed that she was still having some hoof soreness, so other than hoof maintenance, we just awaited her slow recovery.
When she went down, we checked hooves again. They were healthy and normal. So what was wrong now? We isolated her and waited to see if a little TLC might help. Then we called the vet. In my initial exam, it didn’t feel like her legs were broken, but I’m not a professional. The vet confirmed that indeed, she was having neurological problems, not physical problems.
Meningeal worm is a harmless parasite, provided it lives in its natural host, the deer. When a sheep accidentally eats the snails that carry the larvae of meningeal worms, the worms instinctive “roadmap” doesn’t work. It moves into the spinal cord and brain of the sheep, causing neurological damage. Treatment uses regular worm medications, but often the worms are out of reach of the blood-carried medication, or the damage has been done. That appears to be the case with our poor down ewe. I was not aware that meningeal worm could lie dormant and strike so late. Neither were the people I contact for advice. It wasn’t until the vet came that I learned this, and I am afraid I have learned it too late for this dear girl. She is still down as of Sunday evening. It wouldn’t be fair to make her go on, unable to walk. We talked about a wheelchair, but sheep need to be able to stand and lie down at will, which wheels would prevent. There’s nothing for her, unfortunately.
The other ewe is a brighter situation. Eilis (a Gaelic name, pron. Ay-lish) is a beautiful BFL ewe who has lost weight in the last week or so. She seemed to suddenly thin out. We wormed her pre-emptively, and we’ve now giving her a special grain ration. Feeding grain to one ewe is a lot like trying to give candy to one preschooler- everyone else who notices the treat wants in. Fortunately, though she is shy, Eilis is large and aggressive, so it’s not too hard to feed her without feeding everyone. In another week or two, we’ll start feeding our better second cut hay.