Urinary Calculi

Earn a reputation for being a crazy sheep lady and life gets even more interesting.  Recently I was contacted by a complete stranger, asking me to take a look at her sick sheep.  She thought it might be urinary calculi and, seeing the animal, that was clearly it.  Urinary calculi – aka kidney stones – are a common problem in young, castrated male sheep and goats. If the stone actually causes the urinary bladder or urethra to rupture, this problem is called “water belly” because of the accumulation of urine in the abdomen. Stones can also form in the female but very rarely cause a problem because of the large size of the urethra. Males that are castrated at a very young age have a much smaller penis and urethra, leading to easier blockage of the urethra by small stones. Caught early they can be treated but this poor lamb had been suffering a long, long time – his bladder had already ruptured and formed the classic “water belly”.

The only humane thing was to put him out of his misery, which we did immediately.  The owner just wanted him gone so, rather than have his life go to waste, we brought him home to process.

Between our concern and the coming storm, we forgot to get pictures of him.  However I found an image on the web that is very similar to what we saw:

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While skinning, bloody urine leaked, tainting much of the carcass.  The hind legs, which were suspended above the abdomen when hung, were fine, however much of the rest of the meat became dog food.

We can only hope the owner learned from this experience to seek help early, to avoid needless suffering.  Meanwhile, I am thankful none of our sheep or goats have had this problem.

And if you enjoyed this post, you won’t want to miss next week when I describe, in detail, the symptoms, progression, and common complications  of  malignant rectonasal inversitis.

Meat in the Freezer

The romantic view of homesteading extolls the joy of having a pantry stocked with home-canned goods and a freezer stocked with home-grown meat.  Butchering one’s own grass-fed meat and using it to fill a freezer sounds great, doesn’t it?  What the pioneers don’t mention is how utterly exhausting a day of butchering can be – and how one’s feet ache by the end of it.

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Three lambs made it to our freezer this week.  Three lambs who were born here, raised on mama’s milk and grass, and who died knowing only kindness and gentle words from people they were familiar with from birth.

We chose to grind a lot of the meat today as we find ground meat to be the most versatile.

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We also were able to put away many pounds of meat to be used as dog food, and of course, saved the meaty bones for the dogs.  In short, almost nothing of these lambs goes to waste around here.

We are exhausted and aching in ways we never imagined.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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.

Chinese New Year Ram Lamb

This year Chinese New Year fell on Feb 19th and marked the beginning of the Year of the Ram.  Without any planning on our part we happened to have a ewe due to lamb on the 19th so when the alarm went off, I went out to check on her.  Sticking precisely to her due date, she had just delivered her lamb – he was still soaking wet and had not yet been cleaned.  Unfortunately this represented a hazard as it was 17F (-8C) at the time and I was concerned about hypothermia.  I didn’t want to deprive the ewe and her lamb of bonding time by taking over the cleaning but nor did I want him to freeze to death so I grabbed a towel and rubbed him vigorously to dry him as quickly as possible.  I then turned him back over to her so that he could nurse.

Lambs are born instinctively knowing to search for the teat but they don’t always know exactly where to find it.  He started nuzzling around her but every time he got close to the udder, she moved away.  This was this ewes “first freshening” and she was alarmed by the little mouth seeking her teats; she wanted nothing to do with that.  She hadn’t rejected the lamb himself – she was murmuring to him in that special voice ewes use only for their lambs, and she was interested in sniffing him – but she clearly did not understand that nursing is part of the job description.

I let them try to figure it out for an hour or so.  I prefer that animals work things out for themselves and believe that in the long run they do better with less human intervention.  But, after an hour she still wouldn’t allow him to nurse.  He was shivering and I worried about him weakening.  So, I cornered the ewe, holding her still with arms, legs and body, to give the lamb a chance.  Within a short time he had found it and I was happy to hear him slurping as he drank, his little tail wiggling his joy.

I hoped that, having experienced nursing once, the ewe would assume all of her motherly duties but it was not to be.  Over the course of the day I checked on them frequently but had to hold her down each time he needed to nurse.  The only progress we made was that instead of having to pin her in a corner with my whole body, she had relaxed enough to stand still with just one arm holding her in a headlock.  By late afternoon I was concerned that she would never “get it” and that I would wind up having to bottle feed him.  I was not enthused by the prospect, as I trudged down to hold the ewe for another feeding.  So it was with both relief and joy that I got there to find him nursing, his little tail waggling, the ewe nuzzling and talking to him.

This is the first time I’ve had a ewe not instinctively know how to care for her lamb – but now that she has fully accepted her role, she is taking good care of him.  And, after a preponderance of ewe lambs this year, we are thrilled to welcome our own little Chinese New Year Ram.

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Too much excitement

We had more excitement here yesterday than we needed.  Mid-morning I looked out the window and could see that one of my Dorper ewes – a first freshener – was in early labor.  Signs to look for?  She had lost interest in grazing, eating hay out of the hay walls or even staying with the flock.  Instead she was off by herself, head hung low to the ground.  I ran out and moved her into one of the lambing jugs and then went back into the house to take a shower.  Sheep seem to be a little shy about giving birth with an audience and more than once I’ve left for “just a little while” only to miss it altogether.  Yesterday I figured the best way to ensure the lamb was born, was to leave for awhile.  However by the time I returned, nothing much had changed.  I decided to wait her out since I really did want to be present at a birth, and my Dorper ewes, being the calmest and friendliest, seemed the best candidates to allow it.

So I pulled up my lawn chair, grabbed my Kindle and with a thermos of hot tea, I was all set to wait and watch.  After some time had passed, during which she moved around a good deal, pawed, lay down, got up, walked some more, pawed, lay down….over and over….I looked up to notice there was a bag of fluid hanging out.

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I expected things to move pretty fast at this point, but over the next hour or so, not much changed.  Eventually I saw a tiny pair of hooves emerge and based on their orientation I decided there was nothing to worry about – they were facing the right way for the lamb to be presenting front legs first.  However an hour and a half later she hadn’t progressed at all.  She was pushing hard and on each push the hooves would emerge but would then recede back inside in between contractions.

It is hard to know at what point to intervene but with this being the first time for this ewe, and with her being a smaller ewe bred back to a large ram – and knowing that my other ewes have delivered in far less time – I decided to glove up and see what was going on.  On the next push, I grabbed the little hooves and tried to pull when she pushed.  The lamb was vigorously objecting to me pulling so I was glad to know it was still doing okay, but after many tries, we had made no more progress than before.

The ewe was starting to get distressed, bellowing with each contraction, and getting up and changing positions every couple of minutes, clearly frustrated that her hard work was not producing results.  I was also getting quite anxious.  I didn’t want to lose the lamb but more importantly, I didn’t want to lose this ewe.  I donned a fresh pair of gloves, lubricated with some KY Jelly, and this time inserted most of my hand, trying to feel for the problem.  I could feel the lamb’s head – and even stick my fingers in its mouth – so I knew the presentation was correct.  The problem must be that the shoulders are stuck.

Honestly at this point I’d love to say I knew what the solution was, but in reality I just got lucky – and learned something for the future.  When the shoulders are stuck, pulling on both legs at once doesn’t help as it doesn’t change the position of the lamb.  Where I got lucky was that on the next contraction I grabbed just one foot and pulled – quite hard – and suddenly the leg slipped loose and emerged almost the entire way.  I now realize that by rotating one leg all the way forward, it “slimmed out” the shoulders so that they could pass through the area in which they were stuck.  Having delivered one leg, on the next contraction I was able to ease the head out, and from there the rest of the lamb slid out easily.

The ewe immediately started licking off the lamb – a little ewe lamb.

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And within a short time the lamb was on her feet and figuring out the nursing thing.  Two hours later, when I took the ewe some grain, the lamb was dry and getting the hang of her long, gangly legs.

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This was the first ewe who needed assistance and I’m so glad I was there.  I’m also glad I put together a “birthing kit” a few weeks ago “just in case”.  Not knowing for sure what I’d need, I put in some old towels, disposable gloves, KY Jelly, a nasal aspirator and some antibiotic ointment.  Under duress I was thankful I’d done that as I was able to run up to the house, grab the kit and be back to help her in no time, once I realized she was struggling.

Freemartins….or no?

Several years ago I learned about a phenomenon that occurs in cattle wherein the heifer (female) calf out of a set of male/female twins will almost always be sterile.  She is either born without ovaries, or with non-functioning ovaries and although outwardly she appears female, she will often behave rather masculinely. Last year our flock of sheep consisted of a ram and three ewes, so we anticipated at least three lambs.  However only two of the ewes produced lambs leading us to wonder if the third ewe had miscarried or was sterile.  It was not until a few weeks ago that in researching something else, I stumbled upon a reference to the freemartin syndrome in goats and sheep and learned that it happens “occasionally” in both.  A lightbulb went on.  We purchased the three ewes knowing very little about them, including whether they were the result of single or multiple births, so there was every possibility this ewe was the result of a male/female twin birthing and therefore could be a freemartin.  She does not behave with any masculinity – in fact, she is the shyest of all of them – but as I’ve watched some of the other ewes grow larger with obvious pregnancies over the past few weeks, and watched their udders slowly develop, I gave up looking for the same signs in this ewe, believing her to be infertile. Until last night.  While they were grazing I caught a glimpse of her vulva as she lifted her tail for a second, and it was noticeably pink even from my distance.  So while graining I determined to check for signs of udder development.  She made that easy for me when the time came, getting down on her knees, butt in the air.  I wasn’t certain but thought – maybe – her udder was slightly less flat than it was a few weeks ago when we trimmed hooves.  Maybe. I reported to HWA that our freemartin might in fact be pregnant, though she clearly wasn’t anywhere close to delivery.  We’ve been on kid watch with our goat doe for several weeks now and feel sorry for her carrying an udder the size of a basketball around with her.  We have two other ewes with well-developed udders as well. This morning I checked the flock at 6:30am as I do every morning, and even before I got to the pasture, I heard a new little voice bleating.  To my astonishment, when I got to the gate, I saw a very newborn lamb – still soaking wet – lying next to……the suspected freemartin.  Who just last night I noticed for the first time might be starting to develop an udder. No pictures yet.  This ewe really is skittish and moves away any time I try to approach.  I’ve not even been able to determine if the newest member of our flock is a ram or ewe lamb yet.  Either way, we shall call it “Surprise”.

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Surprise, surprise

While on kid watch (still no kid(s)!), I’ve been checking on the flock/herd regularly to make sure no one is in labor and needing assistance.  However even with regular checks, it is possible to surprise me.  I did an early morning check at 8:30am a couple of days ago and found no one obviously in labor.  A mere four hours later I hauled more water out to check again and was greeted by a couple of new – and very young – voices:

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This is our first set of twins and the black/white combo was a huge surprise.  We’ve temporarily named them “Ebony” and “Ivory” until they can be tagged.  The white is a ram while the black is a ewe lamb.  Mother is a second time Mama who is taking it all in stride, cooing to them in that particular language the ewes reserve for their newborns.  Despite extremely cold temperatures in the 72 hours since their birth, both lambs are doing well, nursing and learning to operate those long, long, legs.