I have written many times before about my affection for Pat Coleby’s book, Natural Sheep Care. This book is really just about mineral supplementation; but it has a strange mix of other topics sprinkled in. (Who knows why, they don’t really belong, but maybe a publisher thought the book needed to be rounded-out). I first read it several years ago, and my copy is worn from constant referencing.

The original Australian version had been published in the US in 2006. Measurements were expressed in the metric system, and it contained a lot of terms which are not familiar to American audiences. Acres USA re-published an updated version in 2012, and it’s clear they attempted to remedy some of this; and bring in more discussion of how the information applies to US audiences as compared to Australian. Though it’s still odd in that many measured amounts which were cleanly expressed in whole increments in the metric system were just straight-converted into ounces, rendering impractical-to-apply-without-rounding amounts like 0.17 oz (=5ml cod liver oil). I’ve still had to look up a few unfamiliar Australian terms, like lupins, which in this context, would translate our use of the word legumes.

We went camping this weekend, and I had some relaxing quiet time in the woods to read the updated version, highlighter pen in hand. I still find this version of the book to be disorganized and repetitive. Humorously, the author or editor even seems to acknowledge the repetition by saying “as mentioned in previous sections…”. It’s like a first draft that’s ready for a good editor to chop it up and re-format it so that it flows. And, it still contains content which just doesn’t seem to belong, like a short paragraph on ear tag color conventions, a diagram of somebody’s shearing barn layout with hardly any explanation, or a foray into breed discussions that’s too superficial to be meaningful. But, a reader can easily get past all that by skimming.

The meat of the book is in the discussion of minerals in the diet, and how they correlate to good or poor health in sheep. This information is so extremely important and valuable, than any roughness in the book’s editing can be easily forgiven. I am finding that this new version indeed clarifies many concepts that confused me in the last version, so there is definite improvement. I sense the influence of the publisher in that there is broadened discussion on correcting pasture quality, rather than just focusing on supplementing the sheep’s diet to compensate for poor pasture. (Acres USA is a strong promoter of soil tilth improvement concepts.) There is also more discussion on copper, addressing the American audience concern of over-supplementation and resulting toxicity.

I feel like I cannot read and re-read this book enough. Every pass causes a little more knowledge to permanently lodge in my mind, putting together this complicated puzzle of minerals, vitamins, and how the body uses both. My pass this time, though, has led me to the same concerns I had when I read the book initially: wondering whether my sheep are getting adequate copper. Over these last several years, I felt as though I was settling on the right amount, based on surveillance of liver samples, staying conservative on the low-normal side. But in re-reading her book again, little nagging complaints I still have with some sheep: lowered conception rate, occasional anemia that’s not paired with high parasite load, tapeworms, unexplained scours, and single incidences of hoof problems- all these roads lead back to copper, and sulfur to some extent. My most recent lab results echo this, so I’m going to increase these next and see where it leads. It’s a never-ending process of honing.

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