Sadly, we had a farm incident this week of the less pleasant kind. Early one morning we found one of our youngest twin lambs bloody and his brother missing entirely. It didn’t take long to find the place along the fence where a large animal had dug under and we assume the culprit is again, coyotes. The surviving lamb had his throat torn up and several bite marks elsewhere on his body. Perhaps a mother coyote with juvenile pups was teaching them to hunt. Once one was killed they left the other alone and though he had injuries and was in shock, we hoped he’d recover. After cleaning up his wounds, we found they were not terribly deep. We gave him a shot of Dexamethasone, a steroid that helps to recover from shock, as well as a shot of antibiotic to prevent the wounds becoming infected. Over the next few days he nursed, grazed and pooped normally and though he moved slowly, he kept up with the flock.
However four days after the attack, he didn’t seem any better; if anything he seemed worse. He was uncoordinated, lethargic and dejected. On the morning of the fifth day I found him down and tried to assist him to stand. He could not put weight on his front legs and collapsed. A vet came to see him and diagnosed him with tetanus. Quite honestly, tetanus was the last thing on my mind when this occurred. I worried about infections at the wound sites – even rabies – but I didn’t even know tetanus was possible, thinking it related more to wounds inflicted by rusty metal than predators. The vet explained that tetanus is in the soil and with the open wounds, it found an entry point. Unfortunately there are very few treatment options, so the humane decision was to euthanize him.
Lambs and kids get a CD-T vaccination (the “T” is “tetanus”) when they are six weeks old, followed by a booster 3-4 weeks later. Between birth and six weeks, they obtain immunity via their mother’s milk. This lamb was only 5 weeks so had not yet had his CD-T, however the vet explained that if, when the attack had occurred, we had administered both the CD-T AND an anti-toxin at the same time, it might have prevented what happened. We will know that for the future, but for now it seems a hard lesson learned.
Meanwhile…..HWA and I have spent many hours reinforcing fencing. Our fencing is good – after all we had it done professionally only two years ago. However in addition to the obvious place of entry we found several other areas where they could potentially dig so we’ve been reinforcing those as well. We’re cutting 16-foot cattle panels lengthwise into 3 pieces to create 48 feet of 16″ panel. We place them at the bottom of the fence, shoving the “rods” (created by cutting the panel) into the ground. We then wire the panel to existing fence choosing a horizontal wire lower than the horizontal bar on the panel such that the tension of the wire tie acts to keep the panel pushed into the soil.
And, as a precaution, for the foreseeable future, our evening routine has changed as well. Now, instead of leaving the sheep and goats loose in the pasture at night, we lock them into a pen closer to the house, letting them out only by day. So – even if something is again able to dig into the pasture, it will find that the prey it seeks is behind yet another layer of fencing, which, we hope, they will find uncomfortably close to the house and the dogs.
Livestock predation is part and parcel of homesteading, but when it happens, it is hard not to feel discouraged.