Poor #33. She is as big as a house. And due in about seven days. When she stands, she kind of “parks out” her rear legs, like she’s trying to make room for that load. If she could talk, I bet she’d say, oh, my aching back… I am watching all the ewes like a hawk morning and evening during their feedings, to spot any signs of malaise. Each one of those girls is potentially carrying around several hundred dollars, so extreme vigilance is warranted! 🙂

And sure enough, this morning, #33 was looking dreamy, like she’s in a daze. When I poured out their grain, she was slow to approach it, stuck her nose in it, paused, nibbled, and then stared into space like she had forgotten what she was doing. Normally, all the sheep gobble their grain and constantly jockey for position in a classic demonstration of greed and selfishness. I think it’s too early for her to be off her feed from getting ready to give birth, she has a week to go! Diagnosing how a sheep is feeling physically or emotionally is hard; it reminds me of a cartoon I’ve seen that looks something like this:


But, I think #33 is feeling poorly, as best I can tell. Her spacy-ness is not a good sign, I suspect she is suffering from low-grade ketosis or “pregnancy toxemia.”

Subclinical Ketosis

Ketosis is a blood sugar imbalance caused by the  huge demand of multiple fetuses and an ever-shrinking stomach volume that doesn’t allow the ewe to eat as much as she should. She starts to burn body fat, a process which creates ketones, and those are toxic. If the liver cannot filter them fast enough, acute poisoning results. 

She doesn’t have acute symptoms, as she is still eating a little, able to rise and walk, and she does not have the “model airplane glue” smelling breath that’s supposedly characteristic of advanced stages of toxicity. (I tell ya, I’ve been smelling rumen breath a lot these last few days! It’s not a pretty smell even when healthy! ;-D) So, that’s good, hopefully it’s just low blood sugar at this point. Advanced ketosis does not have a good prognosis, especially for the fetuses, so this is where careful observation and catching it early is important.

Chosen Treatment

Though she’s not catastrophically ill, I’m concerned. Ketosis isn’t known for resolving on its own, it just gets worse if left untreated. Immediate action is the best strategy whenever ketosis is suspected. I gave her a dose of proplyene glycol right away, waited an hour, then convinced her to eat more grain. She did, but was still a bit snooze-ey, unfocused and disinterested. I will continue with doses of that three times a day, probably until she lambs. I will try to feed her grain from a bucket so I can measure how much she’s getting and make sure it’s where I want it to be.

In dealing with difficult cases, I often turn to homeopathy, which I consider to be the medicinal patron saint of hopeless causes. I have not found a sheep homeopathy book. So I use George Macleod’s The Treatment of Cattle by Homeopathy, which is a fair substitute, since ruminants are all very similar. Mr. Macleod differentiates between “digestive ketosis” – the lethargy form, and “nervous ketosis”- the excitability form. For digestive cases, he advises Lycopodium, and then Nux Vomica; intended to settle out the digestion process and liver’s ability to balance blood-glucose levels. Luckily, I have both on hand, so I’ll add that to her regimen.

From Too-Fat to Too-Thin

Last year, her story was different. I didn’t know when she was bred, but assumed that she came to me already pregnant and that her due date was sometime in January. We had a coyote attack, and then another. I was paranoid for her safety in the pasture if she were to lamb, so I put her in a pen by the house. She looked so due-any-day: big udder, sunken-in hips, loose vagina. She was very big then too, so I really started graining her up in anticipation for what I thought would be lambing any day.

But then I waited, and waited. It turned out she was one of the last ewes to lamb, in mid-March. Thus, I had overfed her too early in her pregnancy, she wasn’t able to exercise in those weeks of being penned up, and she got too fat. In the last few days before she lambed, she started to experience vaginal prolapse, probably caused by the poor fitness. Fortunately, it was a very tiny prolapse, and because I knew she was imminently due by then (she was on the tail end of the breeding by my ram, which I had timed) I was able to leave it alone and she was OK.

So, this year I was feeling good knowing her exact due date, and that I could control better how I planed-up her nutrition in the last month to keep her more “in the zone” of not-too-fat, not-too-thin. But, <sigh> best laid plans, it looks like it still may not have worked. I hope I caught it in time and that I can manage her through! This is the high maintenance part of sheep raising!