Appetite returns, for morning glory

Appetite returns, for morning glory

I mentioned that one of my new sheep seemed to be feeling under the weather the first few days after I got her home. But after giving her some liquid nutrient as a pick-me-up and immune system support, she seemed to recover, and I saw her grazing, chewing her cud, and generally looking fine by the end of the week. I check on all our animals daily, so am quick to observe any problems.

Last Friday evening, I noticed she was hanging her head again, and seemed thinner, with runny eyes and new diarrhea. Saturday morning, I brought her up by the house and started her on vitamin B injections and liquid nutrient, and presented her with lots of things to eat. She did not seem to have an appetite; so I started her on penicillin too, which is recommended for “shipping fever” related pneumonia. I de-wormed her with Ivermectin, worrying that if she was also dealing with a parasite load, this would make her recovery more difficult. I waffled on this chemical assault, but decided it was probably the right tradeoff given the circumstances, and the weekend timing.

Monday she seemed to be responding to this regimen, she was up on her feet, cheerful demeanor, head and ears up, interested in her surroundings and starting to snack on leaves and grass. Ah, I thought, she’s turned the corner, now we just need to stay the course and rebuild. She passed some monster-sized tapeworms, but that didn’t necessarily alarm me, as my understanding is that tapeworms are not a drastic threat to sheep.

But, Tuesday she was lying down again, and had lost her appetite again. <groan> To vet, or not to vet- it is a difficult question for production animals, because vet care can rapidly consume several year’s worth of lamb crop income. It’s tough, you’d like to save them all, but it’s the financial reality of farming that you can’t. Not to mention, there is the question of whether this was just an unthrifty animal who was prone to disease, and whether you want that in your breeding program.

I decided to bite the bullet, since I’d gone through a lot of trouble to get these genetics. I was able to get an appointment for the afternoon. When I loaded her into my van, she was walking fine and jumped in on her own. There was some delay at the vet, and by the time we unloaded her, she had totally crashed, was collapsing and in severe distress! Ugh! How quickly they can go downhill! The vet really hustled to get her stabilized, with Banamine, Naxcel, glucose, thiamine, and oxygen.

The vet felt that she has probably been struggling for a long while, much longer than the 3 weeks I’ve had her home, and that the travel stress finally did her in. Interestingly, he said he was surprised to  hear that tapeworms were being passed- he didn’t feel that Ivermectin would kill them, so they were likely exiting the host on their own (because they sensed it was a sinking ship). He felt that tapeworms that large in a 7 month old lamb were unusual, that she must have been fighting those since she was a tiny lamb.

Then we went over the options: $300/day to keep her in the clinic and pump her full of stuff (on top of the cost already incurred for the heroics to stabilize her). <sigh> Unfortunately, that’s just not warranted for a $250 sheep. So, I took her home with bags full of meds. Even then, the prediction was that she’d likely suffered liver and lung damage, so her health might always be compromised. He gave the “prognosis guarded” code name for “pretty hopeless,” but I figured we’d give her a shot.

She didn’t make it to 10pm, unfortunately. I am disappointed, she was a very nice looking ewe with a great pedigree. But you do what you can, and she did not give any earlier indications that she was this bad off. Sometimes animals are stoic and it’s just not obvious how sick they are, and it’s hard to differentiate between “off my feed” and “on death’s door”. I had a necropsy done, and he noted severe lung damage, severe pericarditis, some liver damage, and parasite load despite just being de-wormed; and this conclusion, Neither of these conditions were reversible based on the severity of changes on necropsy, and despite the degree of treatment, mortality was inevitable.

This is why it’s hard to make any money on farming- I’ll have to sell four lambs to recover from the “investment” of this lamb! :-{ Though, I will say, I sensed that the vet adjusted his prices according to my reply to this question, “what is the sheep’s name?” to which I answered “number 9021.” I am betting that if I would have said “her name is Daisy” it would have cost double! 😉 Several times, he mentioned that he knocked some amount off the “usual” rate.

There are always things to learn from these setbacks, at least. I had a nice chat with a fourth year vet student at the hospital, I think her name was Christie, while we waited for lab results. She was delighted for the opportunity to learn more about hair sheep, listen to fluid-filled lungs on the stethoscope, and review the prognosis and treatment with the doc. Hopefully she got in on the necropsy as well. All notes in her notebook to review later with her university advisor!

For me, I’m reflecting on this whole “shipping fever” phenomenon, and resolving to be more aggressive with treatment when I see signs of it in the future (though it’s unclear with this lamb if even that would have helped, it sounds like she had silent underlying illness for too long). I’m not a big fan of doing “preventative” antibiotic administration, but maybe this is one instance where it’s warranted (at least if you see an animal distressed at all after travel). Wardeh had written about shipping fever last spring when some of her dairy goats got it, and mentioned she’d heard of Bova Sera as a possible preventative. But I can’t find information on exactly what is in the product. Anyone else have experience with it?

So! Onward, there is still much to do, breeding season is upon us and winter prep is here. It’s sad to lose a lamb, but there are a few dozen future lambs and their healthy mommas to think about now!