BronteKneeA few weeks ago, we got some bad news. It started with Bronte showing some lameness on her front leg around the first of July. I wasn’t initially alarmed, since the dogs do injure themselves sometimes with all the running they do on uneven ground. There was a little bit of swelling in her knee, but not much, and she was still getting around just fine and was cheerful. I gave her some NSAIDs I had left over from her spay, and it seemed to improve.

Once the meds were gone, it got worse, however. The swelling increased, as did her lameness, and her demeanor started to change, as if she was in more discomfort. I worried that perhaps it was a bigger injury, like a tendon that needed surgical intervention. I called to make an appointment to have it x-rayed. My description to the vet that it was a strange, “hard” swelling made her instantly say “bone cancer” on the phone, even without seeing it.

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Last week I attended a talk on the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). This continues to be a topic that “everyone is freaking out about” when I don’t think most need be. On hand to present were Amber Itle, a WSDA Field Veterinarian and Cat Marrier, a WSDA Feed Specialist. I was already pretty familiar with the law change, having read up on it when it was proposed in the Federal Register, and following it as it became law. But I did pick up a few tidbits of interesting info I didn’t know!

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The most common model used in the U.S. for managing lambing time is to “jug” each ewe into a 4×4’ pen in a barn right after she gives birth. Most people leave ewes jugged for several days. This definitely helps the ewe be sure to “learn” all of her lambs, and not get confused by any intruders into the birthing scent cone. It also gives the lambs ample chance to nurse on a ewe that’s not a moving target, to learn the smell and sound of their dam, and to gain practice at finding and using the ewe’s teats. If there is a problem during jugging, intervention is easy, since they are all easily caught in such a small space. The upside of this practice is reduced mis-mothering incidents (either caused by the dam’s or the lamb’s behavior), which can be a source of lamb losses.

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The grass is looking fantastic this spring, we’ve had a great mix of warm weather and rain. The abundant feed is a gift, but it comes with the overhead of moving fencing every few days. I was able to start grass rotation on the south property March 5th, and the sheep just returned to that area two weeks ago. It is reed canarygrass (RCG) so though they grazed it down to nubbins in March, it is already taller than me and forming seed heads! It is both a very productive, and vexing grass.

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2009Lamb

I was pleased to get a post card from WSU’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (WADDL) a while back, advertising that they now offer a pregnancy test. I had been paying $6.50 at BioPryn, so I was liking the $4.50 price at WADDL.

I sent in a batch of blood samples that were collected 5/1. The report came back saying all the ewes were open. I noticed once was on the hairy edge: her S-N ratio was 0.297, and anything greater than 0.300 is considered pregnant. I had a hard time deciding whether I thought this ewe looked pregnant, or just fatty. Even her  udder was ambiguous, it looked slightly full, and, in the last few days, growing larger; but certainly a long ways from imminent-to-deliver. Well, we were all wrong, she had a lamb this morning (and now her udder looks quite full). WADDL claims a sensitivity of 99.3%, so once again, I seem to have fallen into their small slice of error range, which is… not helpful. I had almost stopped monitoring or looking at this ewe, and had started putting away all my lambing bag supplies, relying too much on the test results to tell me I was done with lambing for the year.

I have not had the BioPryn test be wrong for me in either direction, tho they claim a similar sensitivity. I may go back to them, despite the $2/sample extra charge. They are also much faster at processing and returning results, which is preferable for me, since I’m using the information to plan next steps. Anyway, I was glad for the test to be wrong, as it’s always distressing to have a mature ewe be dry, and I was contemplating what to do with her. Now I know, she lost her pregnancy less than a month in, and re-bred in late December. Which is actually kind of a testament to her prolificacy. It was a nice surprise.

I think I have four orphan-rear lambs this year. I say I think, because I never can be sure which lambs are nursing off the bucket.

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Old #33 is thirteen this year. I really intended to cull her after last season, but… I didn’t.  For various reasons of procrastination, guilt, a summer schedule turned on its head by drought and hay feeding, and because I wanted to retain enough mature ewes to have an increasing crop size. She had single lambs the last two years, which was ideal for her, not too big of a load. Wouldn’t you know it, she conceived twins this time, and it nearly killed her.

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