Finally, spring weather is coming on, and this is directly correlated with a reduced workload. Sheep need their diets changed slowly, to allow the bacteria in the rumen to shift appropriately to handle different feed. A few weeks ago, I fed the last of hay, and I am tailing down grain now. So soon, no more hauling feed down to the pasture on the ATV.

I’m still filling the milk bucket twice daily for the orphans, and will do that for a couple more weeks. But usually they have a little left in the morning, so there is no pressure to get up early to feed. Yeah, sleeping in on the weekends! Now the “easy” part of the year is here: just moving the Electronet (every two days right now) and making sure the water troughs are full.

The sheep are shedding late this year too, all going through that moth-eaten time of peeling wool and near baldness that precedes their sleek summer coats filling in. I try to get my hands on them all winter to “score” them, or assess their weight through their wool by feeling their tenderloin for fat cover. But once they shed, you can really see their condition. Most of the ewes are in fine condition, neither too fat nor too lean, like this one, who has a single lamb to feed.

They are at the tail end of the grueling part of lambing: late pregnancy takes a lot of energy, and they have trouble taking in enough food volume because the lamb fetuses are compressing their stomachs. Milk production peaks at about three weeks, so they are at their leanest right now, but heading back into a weight gain cycle. If any were chunky now, that would mean I’d over-fed during pregnancy and risked too-large lambs and enterotoxemia. So, lean is good. These two girls are both feeding triplets. The one on the left is thinner than I’d prefer, but the one on the right is obviously handling the load ok. They are both two year olds.

This girl is worrisome thin, however. I’m sure when I check them during the winter, I miss some. Probably the shyer ones avoid me, and I end up feeling the same tamer ones all the time. And when you are feeding a mob, there will always be some on the ends of the bell curve that either get too much or too little. But this one, I wonder if she has been dealing with something for a while, to have lost this much condition with only a single lamb?

Her giant Clydesdale of a baby does not appear to be suffering due to her thinness: he is almost as big as his momma already at five weeks of age!

I noticed this ewe was feeling poorly as well, standing around with her ears drooping and head hung low, nibbling feebly at grass. I took her temp: 105. She may have low-grade mastitis, though her milk looked fine. But the fever indicates infection, could be pneumonia, could be uterine as well- who knows? But when sheep go downhill like this, it’s usually a death spiral. So I treated her with antibiotics, and also Nutridrench to boost her energy and encourage her to eat more. This made her feel so much better, within 48 hours she had perked right up and was eating aggressively again, and a cheerful demeanor had returned. A night and day difference.

Another case where I’m grateful to be able to offer them a drug that improves their quality of life, or even saves it, when they are definitely gravely ill. Organic labeling wouldn’t allow this, so in that system, I’d have to earmark this lamb as non-organic, since some antibiotic residue will pass to him through her milk. Or just butcher the ewe now and orphan-raise the lamb, or let her suffer and hope for the best. But I would choose to treat a sick sheep any day. Whatever residues this lamb is seeing now should be long gone when he is butchered six months from now; and such a length of time far exceeds the withdrawal time of any drug. Just another case where all-or-nothing thinking on drug use doesn’t work for me; there has to be some middle ground that makes sense to balance human health and environmental concerns with animal welfare. I can’t abide by either extreme, of giving antibiotics all the time to everything, or never finding a case where they are warranted.