BrownEwe A week ago Saturday when I went to check on the sheep, a brown lump on the Electronet fenceline on the opposite end of where the rest of the flock was grazing made me break into a run. Oh, no, no, no, no no! I thought, not another one tangled in the hotwire! I don’t know why I run when I see this. It’s less as if I think getting there thirty seconds faster is going to make the difference between life and death; and more because I want to find out quicker if the sheep is dead. And she was. But not because of the hotwire.


The sheep was in contact with the hotwire, but it looked more as if she’d expired there in the corner, and just lay down neatly, her head gently slipping through a square in the net as she relaxed into the netherworld. I imagine she felt like she was on death’s door, and animals tend to want to cover and hide when they feel that way. In the open pasture, there was no hospice, so she chose to tuck into this corner of the fence, behind the solar charger. The best peaceful hiding place a sick sheep could find in which to feel awful.

Lo and behold, this is the brown ewe of which I’d spoken too soon two weeks ago, concluding that she was completely recovered from her apparent Facial Eczema incident. I guess not! I had noticed she looked just slightly “off” the night before, her facial hair had just a hint of returned scruffiness. She seemed aimless, nibbling a bite of grass, but not chewing with intent. I had made a note to check on her the next day and assess whether she was relapsing. It goes to show how quickly and subtly sheep go from alright to dead!

I wanted more information on her demise, since it could be a hint of some underlying problem I have. I called Pilchuck Vet to inquire about the cost of a necropsy. Unfortunately this ewe did not time death very well from a fiscal point of view, and a weekend necropsy would incur an emergency charge of $120, on top of the $85 starting fee, plus hourly wages to perform the job. <sigh> Pretty expensive information… I called Dr. Laura and left a message on the off chance she might be nearby, and went to enjoy some dinner and relax before deciding what to do. I sooooo didn’t feel like butchering out a sheep that night!

Lucky me, Dr. Laura called back during dinner, and was available Sunday morning. It let me off the hook for the night, and we watched a movie instead of sheep butchering! The morning’s reconnaissance into the ewe’s interior revealed a nicely-fatted ewe, a mostly normal looking liver (maybe slightly off-color) but a fluid bag in the chest, lungs of a twenty-year cigarette smoker. You know those lung sample comparisons they show you in grade school to scare you into not smoking? Healthy lungs, pink and smooth. Smoker lungs, gray and lesioned. Just exactly like that. Check these out, it’s hard to differentiate their color from the color of liver tissue, they are so dark:Lung2Lung1 And this ewe was only three. So! Now I know what’s going on in the pasture when I’m not around, Marlboro Country! 😀

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Just kidding. It was probably some kind low-grade respiratory infection, Dr. Laura said, and one of those lungs looked like it was nearly non-functional, so much tissue destruction had occurred. We discussed whether her symptoms of Facial Eczema in June could have actually been caused by pneumonia. Possible, Dr. Laura said. Or who knows, maybe she had two major illnesses that took her out.

The necropsy probably wasn’t needed, as anyone who has seen those anti-smoking campaign lung samples pressed between Plexiglas plates would have recognized these lungs as trashed. But, it made me feel better anyway to have a vet’s trained eyes. It was $115 of reassurance that I don’t have something spreading through my flock that I need to worry about. This was an isolated case. Given the lack of symptoms, and only a minor fever which subsided in June, there was no way I would have caught this pneumonia or known what it was to treat it properly. Chalk another one up to the unavoidable Mortality Rate!

I dutifully kept the head in the kitchen refrigerator over the weekend, and shipped it off to the USDA APHIS lab for scrapie testing (turns out I needed that box sooner than I would have thought). Since this ewe had no scrapie symptoms, fairly clearly died of pneumonia, and is also genetically resistant to scrapie, it’s a darn good bet she will test negative. But the testing is done all the same, as “surveillance” and to validate our assumptions about presenting symptoms and genetic resistance. 

Not everyone is disappointed with these losses. The dogs all benefit handsomely in their dinners when this happens!