Many of you who follow this blog know that Caseous Lymphadenitis has been an issue in the flock in the past. After an aggressive eradication campaign, the whole flock tested negative in March. However, my last CormoX ewe, Meadowlark, developed a very large and very concerning abscess on her cheek last week. Even though she tested negative for CL three times, I know that false negatives are not impossible and I didn’t feel I could risk having her cyst bursting, spreading illness around.
We separated Lark from the flock, but realized that we couldn’t just have her in the barn all alone. We had been on the fence about keeping Dalek after she had a premature single, failed to come into milk, and showed no signs of regaining any weight. We decided that it would be okay to let her go at this time also. So we transported both sheep back to the barn for a day. We had an on-farm slaughterer come and the deed was swift and stressless for both sheep. We got our answer about Dalek- massive lung damage from a bout with pneumonia. We had noticed her wheezing a bit, but our previous vet hadn’t heard anything in the lungs then. I assume that she had pneumonia at some point earlier in her life and was treated, but had sustained serious damage. If we hadn’t intervened, she would have died a slow and agonizing death.
I feel sad to lose such good ewes. Both were devoted mothers and herd leaders. I am so frustrated that this disease issue continues to worry the flock. I am committed to eliminating it, though, for the long-term wellbeing of the sheep in my care. I have to assume that any disease that packs the lymph nodes with nasty puss has to be painful as well as economically damaging. I will really miss them both.
The rest of the flock seems very happy out on pasture. The grass is rich and the ewes are gaining a bit of weight to counter the pounds they’ve milked off in the last few months. We also have our first new lamb in a while! Sheppenwolf had a single ram lamb this morning.
In my last post, I acknowledged the issue that has persisted in my flock for a number of years. I haven’t succeeded in getting them to be as productive as they need to be, and I’ve concluded that I’ll be better off working with a pure breed intended for the kind of farm we are starting.
Instead of picking a breed and then searching for good breeders, I’ve done the opposite – I’ve picked a great breeder and concluded that the breed meets my needs.
Sue Johnson has been raising Border Leicesters since the mid 1970s. She started with two 11 year old ewes, and told me that she’s been looking for straight backs and wide hips ever since. It shows. I decided to buy her ewes when I realized I couldn’t pick out any individuals in her flock that I *wouldn’t* happily own. They are beautiful and uniform, and Sue’s complete commitment to quality shows in every aspect of these sheep – right down to the color of the horn on their feet and the color of the skin on their eyes.
So we are buying 14 of them. Sue is reducing her flock significantly, and she has entrusted me to continue her progress. It’s almost like I’m adopting her children or arranging a marriage – we’ve discussed values and opinions of various practices to reassure ourselves that we are making the right choices. I’ll be calling Sue often to consult, especially when I’m trying to find rams in as limited a gene pool. I’m very grateful that she has entrusted her life’s work to us. I hope we can rise to the challenge!
Regarding the continuing CL issue, we retested and got our results on Friday. Bobolink, Moose and Marianne had the same results as before. Amid some tears, Mary Lake dispatched Bobolink today. She had a cyst forming, and we just couldn’t risk keeping her any longer. Her meat is edible, but it’s small consolation for the loss of a really wonderful ewe who gave and raised twins as well as amazing gray fleece every year. Happy trails, Bobolink. I’m sorry to have lost you.
So 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.