It’s been a busy summer, and I’ve allowed blogging to fall down, and off, the priority list for a few weeks. As most know, we’ve had unusually dry weather here, so the grass growth has been curtailed. Our lot usually does well even during dry times, as we have so  much reed canarygrass, and it has very deep roots that can access the water table several feet deep. Annoyingly, the Canada thistle is thriving, so from a distance the ewe field looks green, but only from thistle!

With the dryness comes extra trouble with portable grounding rods on portable fences; and I’ve been having trouble with a few sheep escaping the Electronet due to low voltage. The solar powered chargers don’t have very high voltage to begin with; and now I need to run fairly long runs because I have a lot of sheep. Often one sheep will pop under the fence, pull out a few stakes, which leaves enough leaning that the rest of the group figures out they can jump over. We had enough loose sheep incidents in the garden and orchard that the portable fence grazing is on hold, for now. On my to-do list is to install AC-powered hotwire, and try again to see if higher voltage solves this problem. Now, if I can only fit that project in…

But, even if I had been able to graze the whole property, I suspect we’d still have run low on grass, due to lack of rain. All this has made me go into mitigation mode: working hard to move the already-sold sheep off the property as early and quick as possible, and starting to market the rest. I was so pleased with myself to have photos, EBVs, pedigrees and descriptions for all the for-sale sheep posted on the web by early June, so buyers could make their selections.

I try to move each sold batch into the barn ahead of their pickup time, so they are ready to go and easy to load when it’s time for them to leave. This is the first year I’ve sold many grower lambs, opting to get them off my grass and onto somebody else’s! I weaned lambs a week or two earlier than usual, so the sold ones can leave, and the remaining ones can be prioritized onto the best grass. My winter hay delivery arrived early July, just in time to start feeding it to the ewes! Now that the lambs are weaned,  I’m curtailing the intake of the ewes to just what I think they need, both to help dry them off, and to conserve feed.

The lamb with atresia ani died, sadly. After her surgery, she continued to strain to poop, and I was giving her enemas twice a day. It wasn’t lost on me that there were about 170 sheep here, and I was spending 1/2 hour a day helping one, and starting to feel tired and overwhelmed doing it. I suspect that she lacked the right musculature along her intestines, and her brain was struggling to command her innards to do its bidding. I hoped with continued support, her brain would work it out. I waffled on the best place for her: the barn seemed bad, as she’d just stuff herself full of dry hay all day, and didn’t exercise much, which caused constipation. So, I put her in the field, to encourage walking with the herd, and get her gut moving with nice, wet grass. This seemed effective, she got diarrhea, so stools were at least easily passing, but still the inexplicable straining continued.

We had a string of very hot weather, which was worrisome, but she seemed to be managing, and was cheerful and aggressively eating. Then one day I came home, she had found shade, but was in obvious heat distress, still straining uncontrollably. I brought her into the barn, got her cooled down, and medicated her with everything I could think of. She seemed to brighten, rose on her own, but then peed port red wine colored pee. This was either blood or copper toxicity, and somehow I suspected the latter, given the distress she was in. She died during the night, and necropsy did show gunmetal gray kidneys, so copper toxicity was in play. But I suspect this wasn’t the only thing, and something bad triggered the copper dump into her bloodstream in the fist place. She was a complicated case, so I am not so fixated on worrying about what happened there. It was worth a try to save her, but maybe she had more wrong inside her than I knew. Necropsy didn’t give many other clues.

I’ve lost some other lambs, too, a few that were weak and unthrifty anyway, but also one or two that were big and strong. All were drop-dead type losses, only one or two did I have a day of warning that they were ill, but was too late to save them with treatment. So very acute something was getting them. I enlisted the help of the vet to necropsy a few, and send samples to the WSU lab. I have a few more samples in there I submitted as well. The conclusion so far: selenium deficiency in some, and clostridium perfingens type D in others. Both are unexpected.

I do supplement with Selenium in my mineral mix, and our forage tests adequate for Se, which is atypical for the northwest. I have tested butcher lamb livers before to confirm I was in the “good zone”, last one in 2012. I currently mix two different commercial supplements: one that’s very high in Se, and another with no Se, to lower the high dose because I worried it was dangerous. I suspect what may have been going on was that during winter, my sheep are eating hay from local fields that are probably sorely deficient. So despite having some in the mineral mix, the ewes might be going deficient, and their fetuses and lambs suffer from it. Then, over the summer, the lambs start to “catch up” as they eat our grass and self-feed on the loose mineral mix. So by the time I test them in fall, they are fine. Looking back, I seem to have always had a few weak lambs that I could not fix despite de-worming and feeding high protein hay. I always thought it was persistent anemia, but it may have been low Se. Another variable was I think our mineral mix provider switched Se sources in the last year or two; so perhaps the sheep are synthesizing it differently than before. So, anyway, at least this is an easy fix, I just need to shift their mineral supplement ratios; and I will continue to sample livers over time to monitor. I procured a good stock of BoSe injections, so I can boost any lambs that seem weak or that go down.

Clostridium was another puzzler. I vaccinate the ewes for it, so they should pass on maternal immunity through colostrum, which lasts about sixty days. This should cover the lambs during the window when they are getting rich milk. After that, milk production goes down, and the lambs are just eating grass. So I felt the odds of them succumbing to clostridium were low- it is really more of a grain-fed lamb problem. I did see one dead lamb last year that had the obvious pulpy kidney signs; but I wrote it off as a rare single on especially good milk. But this year, so far it’s been ID’ed in two lambs, and I necropsied a third that had the obvious pulpy kidney again (that one was too autolyzed for the lab to analyze, however). Maybe because I’m breeding for such aggressive growers and good milkers, this will be more of a problem than it would normally be in a grass-fed system. So! I guess I do need to vaccinate lambs for CDT. I quickly added it to my protocol, so all the remaining lambs have now had two doses and should be covered. This one is tricky timing-wise, as if it’s given before the maternal antibodies fall off, the vaccine is ineffective. The fall-off of maternal antibodies varies with each individual. So, all we can really do is hit them twice, hope it takes, and that their window of vulnerability isn’t too long.

Now, hopefully, knock on wood, I’m past the weaner loss stage, and should see improvement in survivability next year. It’s a continuous process improvement exercise, and we’re always learning.

My livestock scale head broke, and the replacement is on backorder. This meant that I had to do 120 day weights on a bathroom scale. With some of the bigger lambs, it was all I could do to hold them up off the ground, and waiting the few seconds for the scale to settle seemed like forever. But, I did it, we make do where we have to; and I didn’t want to lose the value of that data feeding into my EBVs. It’s relieving to think that most of the major summer chores are over. I may sweep through and de-worm the lambs once or twice more in late summer and early fall. I have four more buyer pickups happening in the next couple of weeks, and a dozen more ewes yet unsold. I expect they will move quickly; as there are few to none in perusing the Katahdin ads on craigslist. And of course I have plenty of rams to sell, and those that don’t get purchased will move to the butcher list as fall approaches and that list starts to fill.

WhopperAsALambEach year, I usually have a couple of tiny lambs that refuse to grow. This year, one was “Whopper” a little chocolate lamb with a white snip and bracelets, named by my friend Rob’s kids. I decided to sell him at a discount now as a pet, knowing that he’d otherwise take a year to grow out. I was telling Rob how I’ve found that when selling pets, if I name them, and cite the name in the ad, they sell quicker than if they just have an eartag number or no identity. Rob suggested also posting a photo of his daughter Zoey holding Whopper in the ad. So, I did. Sure enough, he sold within 48 hours. SmileAfter all, how you can  you resist such double-cuteness? So, yay, one more outta here!

So, despite the drought and some losses, life is good, I’m caught up and we even got to do some camping this month! This weekend we got a lot of rain, which felt amazing; we are just not used to weeks and weeks of sun and heat around here!