A few weeks ago while feeding sheep at night, I spotted this dude in the dark with a little problemo: whoa, bottle jaw! At first I wondered if it was, as I affectionately call it since I have no name or official diagnosis, puffy head. I had two more puffy heads at different times this last spring. But both of those were fairly mild compared to my first two puffy heads, and now I’m getting confident in how to treat it and that they will recover easily. So I’m not so worried about puffy head anymore.

So, anyway, this guy had none of the puffy head weirdnesses, just swelling beneath the jaw (not up high on the nose bridge and ears), and it felt much firmer. Seemed like textbook bottle jaw to me, at least from what the textbooks describe!

Only bottle jaw is most associated with barber pole worm in the South in the summer, or liver flukes carried by snails, and we have a meager-to-none snail population here. Bottle jaw is really just a manifestation of anemia, where fluid accumulates in the low point of the head; so it isn’t necessarily caused by worms. It’s just that a heavy worm load is one thing that can cause anemia, which in turn causes bottle jaw. 

Treatment and Recovery

I didn’t bother even trying to do a new fecal exam on him. For one, liver flukes apparently don’t show up well in fecal floats. Two, any worm load is too much worm load for a sheep struggling with anemia. So, I just de-wormed him, again. He’d been de-wormed once in late summer, which would normally be plenty. But sometimes some animals just succumb, so better safe than sorry.

The withdrawal time on oral de-wormers is short (as compared to drug injections); this one is seven days, so not a big concern for a lamb headed to the butcher channel. Which is where he eventually went, but not for several weeks after treatment. 

I gave him a series of vitamin B shots and Nutridrench doses, for good measure. Bottle jaw is serious, after all. I’ve read that what fluid accumulation you are seeing on the outside can be compounded drastically on the inside; concentrated in the lungs, where it’s a most worrisome trigger for pneumonia. He appeared chipper and ate robustly, and the swelling faded within days. So, fine. One sheep out of fifty, he recovered, I made note of it, and moved on.

Here’s a normal sheep head, for comparison- usually the jawline is clearly visible and rises up from the lip line, not down.

The Livers Speak

A few days later, I got liver assay results on six butcher lambs. Lo and behold, four too high in cobalt, two more on the edge. Added to an adult cull earlier in the year that was too high in it. And all too low in iron. Both imbalances can cause, guess what? Anemia.

I had already tried to correct for the low iron earlier in the year by changing my mineral supplement mix, but clearly I need to do more correcting. I had been using half Cattlemen’s and half Sweetlix. Then, diluted down with 1/6 salt and 1/6 dolomite; to cut back on the copper; and because I thought I was doing fine on all the other ingredients to where it would be ok to dilute. Not so. I’ve switched to half Cattlemens and half American Stockman, no dilution. This is the best I can do to try to bring up the iron, reduce the cobalt, and keep copper and zinc where I’d like them (though, IMO, nothing I’ve found has enough zinc).

I think it may still not be an ideal mix, but it’s closer. I’m getting pushed back in the direction of needing to possibly do something totally custom. I’ll give it a go for several months and see where we sit in the spring if I have more livers to sample then.

What’s most fascinating about all this is that I was originally obsessed with trying to avoid additional supplemental iron, because our forage tests insanely high in iron. I was worried about it tying up other minerals. So, go figure, somehow they aren’t synthesizing the iron that is measurable in the forage. I’m starting to become convinced that testing livers is even more important than testing grass!