LambsInHouseMy lamb crop is pretty much “through the woods”, so to speak, most of them are big and vigorous enough not to worry about, and well on their way. And I am breathing  a sigh of relief that it’s winding down, and still trying to catch up on my sleep! I still have three in the house (and not even the three in this picture), :-{ but that’s another story. My camera is broken, too, so no new blog photos until I get a new one. But nice to have an excuse to buy a new one, anyway. What I wanted to write about tonight was the curious abortions I had this year.

Lambing season started out with one concerning abortion, 20 days early. Then I had a string of successful twins and triplets, so my worries eased a little. Next, a strange, tiny dead fetus delivered alongside a healthy, live twin. More normal births, and then two more of those tiny fetuses delivered with a good twin.

The latter two were smaller than the first one. Given that their normal twins were born later, I would say that all three of those fetuses died near the same time, but the first one was further along, having been conceived ten days earlier. So maybe sometime in late November, early December, I had some kind of event that impacted the pregnancies of these three yearling ewes.

FetusOne ewe that was due at the end of the season did not lamb. She looks a little round, but her udder isn’t yet developed. So, either she’s open, or she aborted around the same time as the others, and re-bred. So, I may have one oddly timed lamb birth in May. <groan> Once things calm down a little more, I may blood test her to see.

It always surprises me when people casually mention that they have a real strung-out lambing season after running their ewes with a ram continuously. I hear this a lot. Spread-out lambing usually indicates an abortion problem, at least in prolific sheep breeds like Katahdins. It’s ideal to find out why, if you can. In this case, I contemplated sending off one of those fetuses to the WSU lab for diagnosis. But they were so far-gone-looking, and all of them mixed up in the dirt by the time I found them. If a bacteria had killed the fetuses five months ago and the ewe’s immune system had sequestered it all that time, I wasn’t sure there would be anything alive in the sample to culture. The test is expensive. In the end I decided not to worry about it unless I see it repeat in subsequent years, and just assume it was a weird incident isolated to this year.

The five ewes who appear to have been part of an abortion trend were all yearlings, so that may suggest something to which the mature ewes were immune, like campylobacter. But of course there were also nine yearlings that did lamb normally, so were not impacted by whatever the problem was. I changed mineral supplements mid-November, to a mix that is really pushing the limits on copper and selenium. So maybe it was that, maybe some ewes OD’ed on it a bit or were just more sensitive to it. It could have been a toxic plant, and I do have buttercup in the field where the sheep grazed in December. They normally self-limit how much buttercup they eat, but possibly as the grass supply was winding down, maybe some of them over-indulged. I can’t think of any other stressful events that occurred then.

There is a vaccine for campylobacter, but it’s a killed virus with adjuvants, so I’m not thrilled about the idea of using it from natural health standpoint, nor the labor involved. Especially since it’s one of maybe dozens of things that could be the culprit, vaccinating is just a shot in the dark.

The four observed aborted fetuses comprised almost seven percent of my would-have-been lamb crop as far as lambs conceived goes, plus possibly one inconveniently timed lambing if the fifth ewe re-bred. So that’s a bit of a hit, alright, and definitely something I would prefer not to have happen again. Still, I am ever so grateful, as it could have been worse: some people experience a 50% or more loss in a year when abortion storms strike!