Skinny2 I still  have this one skinny sheep. I should probably start out by saying I’m happy with the health of almost all my sheep. Of course it’s easy to only discuss the unhealthy cases, because they are most interesting. But the truth is, the large majority of my sheep are standing out there eating grass and getting fat, and the only thing they need from me is a full water tank. But the few which struggle do have my attention. Partly because I want to solve their problems so I don’t incur a financial loss on them, and partly because I have to assess whether I want their genetics, if they don’t thrive on my farm.

So, here is Skinny. ADS0065.

She is one of three ewes which came from Montana, and she wasn’t skinny when she arrived. She is a half-sister to the other two, both of which are far from skinny. They are, in fact, quite tubby. Skinny’s lamb is lean, but not skinny. So, it’s not entirely bad genetics, if three relations of hers are OK. I had a few other ewes who gave a lot of milk to their lambs and got lean in the spring, but they’ve all rebounded from that on our high protein summer grass. Not Skinny. Just look at her butt! Skinny1

What I Want

If Skinny were a racehorse or a working dog, I might actually be happy with her lean condition and her long legs. In many respects, she looks good and acts like she feels well, she’s just very lean. But I want Skinny to have twins and feed them well. So I want her chubby, not ready to run a sprint. 🙂

Chubby like Miss One-Quarter-Dorper (HHS107), who has nearly dwarf-length legs, but raised big triplets with ease (one still nursing), and is already looking like butter, ready to breed again. Check out that rumen capacity, this girl is a grass conversion machine! Just in stomach capacity alone, you can see who is more suited to gain weight, the Dorper looks like she could fit ten pounds of grass in there, Skinny, maybe two.DorperSo, what’s up with Skinny? On one hand, I could just run her to slaughter, writing her off as genetically inferior (at least for my farm’s environment). And that’s certainly an advisable choice much of the time. But I went through such trouble to get those Montana genetics (which are generally good, judging by the others), I’m loathe to give up on her too soon. And she’s so skinny, she wouldn’t be very good eating. 😛 So, I’m thinking.

Harbinger of Doom?

I’m thinking, what if she’s a canary in the coal mine? A harbinger of some underlying nutritional problem I have which will bite me in the rear if I don’t pay attention and figure out what’s ailing her? Because of that, I’ve been working on her. First, I eliminated worms as a root-cause. I’ve tried to consider whether she has symptoms in common with other sheep in the flock, but just worse. I do think my lambs didn’t grow as fast this year, compared to last. And I have rough hair coats this year, which is new. I changed mineral mixes about one year ago to one with more copper, and it helped a lot with my foot problems, which was the goal. But what’s the common denominator with the new things I’m seeing?

Skinny’s breeder and I have been discussing it too. She is concerned, of course, and would like for me to be successful with her ewes. We reviewed the possibility of OPPV, but eliminated it as a potential root cause; both based on testing done in the source flocks from whence the ewe came, and because she’s really too young to be exhibiting symptoms. I may still test her at some point, but it’s not the most obvious thing to chase, yet.

Back to Minerals

I went back to my giant spreadsheet of mineral mix comparisons, and reviewed Pat Coleby’s book again. And compared what they were getting with the old minerals (Stockmen brand) and the new ones (Purina Goat), and which things could be related to unthriftiness. One is manganese, Stockmen has it, Purina doesn’t, and it’s needed for good growth. But our forage has an adequate amount, so that’s least likely it. Cobalt is the second suspect, Purina doesn’t have it, Stockmen does. Our forage analysis didn’t include cobalt, so I’m guessing there. The last is selenium. Its proportions were similar between the two products, but slightly lower in Purina. Selenium is tricky: the range between fatal deficiency and fatal excess is razor thin. Despite that, different manufacturers offer a wide range of selenium concentrations in their supplements.

So, I switched brands, as an experiment. I chose Sweetlix Goat Meat Maker, which is comparable to Purina in most cases, but gives me more manganese, cobalt, and selenium- all designed to “make meat” as the label claims! The downside for me is it’s high in iron and sulfur, things I’m try to avoid because I already have excess in the grass. But, the experiment was to be: if my foot problems worsen again, but growth and hair coat improve, I am closer to the answer, and to designing my own mineral mix that’s custom for my grass.

The Verdict

And this appears to be exactly what happened. After five weeks, I believe Skinny is filling out. She has definitely grown a nicer coat, as did the other sheep. And I have a whole bunch of new limpers! Here she is today, it’s hard to tell in photos, but I think her condition has improved. I’ll weigh her soon to test my eye.


So, this mineral mix won’t do for the long term, with all the limping recurrence. But it’s a clue. I’m waffling now between pursuing having my own custom commercial mix made, and just sticking out a homemade, measured sampler of salt, copper, kelp, cobalt and Selenium-Vitamin E and seeing if bare-bones gets me where I want, and for less money!