I have a new ram. It’s another story why I have a new ram, but I do. He has settled in nicely from his short move from my friend Sara Jo’s place in Arlington- we traded rams. But two weeks ago, egads, I noticed a big lump on his front knee. I looked it up: hmm, in general terms, it falls under the category of “arthritis.” And can be risky. Sheep apparently can have big infections settle in a joint, there isn’t good circulation there, and it can get out of hand.

If it were a butcher lamb, I would have given it antibiotics from the fridge and hoped for the best. But breeding rams are valuable, and I didn’t want to have to get another new ram. As luck would have it, the vet was coming out the very next day to drop off all my ewe shipping paperwork for the “California order.” So I had her take a look at it.

First she took his temperature. 110. Whoooah. Normal is 102. Though the tough ol’ bugger was still grazing and trying to mount all the other rams, he was  clearly fighting a raging infection. I chose to have her drain it and take a sample for a lab test, just to rule out CL (though CL tends to lump up more along the lymph lines, so this was not characteristic of that). It drained fluid-ey blood, which is also not like CL (CL is “cheesy”). We gave him antibiotics and she left more with me.

The lab results indicated it was merely a “gram positive” bacteria- something like staph or strep, which is just part of the environment and sometimes gets a foothold. I’m not sure how he got it. Though we did have a minor incident the week prior: I was moving sheep about for chores and weighing. I have a purposeful gap in between some fencing and the ditchline so we can get in there to cut blackberries. The resident sheep know the deal: don’t fall in the ditch of you decide to squeeze back there. And most of my sheep are pretty agile, if they do, they leap right back out. Sheep do descend from the mouflon, after all, and should find scaling steep heights a breeze.

But not the new guy. He slid down there and stood, shivering, in the couple feet of water. I waited, moved some sheep around, hoping to tempt him to climb out and follow the group. Nope. He was in that mental space that’s special to ruminant herd animals: well, I’m pretty much done for, I might as well just die gracefully. <groan> I sent Maggie down there to prod him out. He just tried to butt her. She bit his nose. He butted more.

I got a halter and lead rope, carefully slid down there and hitched him up. Tugged. No cooperation. I hooked my crook around his flank and tried to show him, look, if you use your legs and I pull, you can climb right out. He backed up. Grr!

I had to call Kirk, who was out running errands. He came down and pulled on the lead rope, while I got in the nice cold water and pushed and pulled and manipulated stubborn limp legs. And we leveraged all 200 pounds of dead weight out of there by brute force, and no effort whatsoever from the I’m already a goner ram. Sheez.

He seemed no worse for wear once I convinced him his legs and brain were still fully functional. But maybe he had a small skin abrasion and bruised up his knee, and bacteria got in.

The lab results indicated using good ol’ Penicillin G, which I had in the fridge. So ironically, I did not need the vet, though I could not have known that. His fever is gone and he’s as perky as ever, not lame, though the lump is slow to fade. It seems as though he’ll be fine.

But here’s the kicker: that fever will have killed all his sperm-in-manufacturing. It takes six weeks for new sperm to be ready to go. Perfectly timed for when I’d planned to be done breeding him. Ah, best laid plans. So I’m puzzling over my breeding spreadsheet, thinking of grouping him with a small set of ewes and letting him give it a try. If they aren’t bred, I’ll know by the next breeding cycle because he’ll mark them again with his marking harness and a different colored crayon. And by then, he should be viable. So, worst case, I could have some stragglers who lamb two weeks late.

Nature loves to throw a curve ball.

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