I had the one remaining local sheep vet do a fecal float on my sheep for me, to evaluate their parasite load going into winter and pregnancy. I collected a margarine-tub-sized container of several dozen samples of fresh feces from a pasture rectangle they’d only been in for a few days. I have too many sheep to try to sample individual animals, so it’s most practical to just get an average of the whole herd. They’d been eating supplemental copper for more than a month, so I was curious how this might affect their worm egg counts, since dietary copper is supposed to discourage parasite infestation. Indeed, their worm counts for most parasites was almost negligible. But, they did test positive for lungworm infestation.

I discussed with the vet the strategy of only de-worming the sheep that seemed less thrifty, the ones that were probably under strain from the parasite load; instead of shotgun-worming the whole flock. Though she resonated with that general philosophy, she felt that lungworm “isn’t something you should mess with,” so to speak. It can often be subclinical for a long time, so there is some risk in waiting until animals show symptoms before treating them.

Lungworm is a weird parasite that uses slugs and snails as intermediate hosts. We have plenty of both in our fields-thousands, so it would be easy enough for the sheep to accidentally eat small ones while grazing. In fact, I’m not sure how they’d avoid it, the slugs are so dense on the grass in the evening and morning dew. (I hate slugs, so I’m hyper-aware of their presence! :-P)

So, with some reservations,  I went ahead and treated the whole flock with Ivermectin, the recommended de-wormer for lungworm. Minus one ewe who did not breed with the rest of them in October. I’m assuming she snuck in a heat cycle in late August, probably days before  moved the rams into their own pen. I’m guessing she’s due to lamb around January 15th, and the vet thought it was too late in her pregnancy to de-worm her. There is also the possibility she didn’t breed, but I’ll know that soon enough, and will have other plans for her in that case!

I was really glad to have the new alleyway in which to do this work. I had Maggie help me; I brought all the sheep into the alley, and used Maggie to bunch them into a corner with a man gate and hold them there. I treated each sheep, and kicked it out through the man gate, to be sure I didn’t miss or double-dose any animals. Handy! It only took about a half hour to do eighteen sheep.

The fecal float cost $60, which was for two different tests. And I have to re-test in three weeks to verify the Ivermectin was effective. I’ve been interested in learning to do my own parasite testing, but the original information I found on doing the McMaster test made the several-hundred-dollar equipment seem too expensive to justify (though at $120 per event, I’m reconsidering that). But then I found Fias Co Farm’s helpful website, which suggests that a $90 student microscope and some basic slides are adequate equipment. So, I might try this as a longer-term strategy. It would be nice to be able to do them at home more frequently, to verify the effectiveness of any treatments used.

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