NecropsyOfTheLambsThe Country Living Expo was yesterday. It was fun, as usual. One class I attended was a demonstration of sheep necropsy, taught by Dr. Kerr. Donated was a near-two-year-old ewe from Eastern WA that had been unthrifty her entire life. Her owners had purchased her from out of state as a nice show sheep, but she failed to thrive. They tried all the usual things to treat her, and nothing seemed to help. Knowing that she would not be successful as a production ewe, and couldn’t even be shown in her current condition, they decided to donate her to this cause, and try to learn what was wrong with her. The ewe was quite thin, with a BCS of 1.5. But, she had normal stool and otherwise had no obvious outward symptoms. It was reported she came from a farm with good husbandry, and was being maintained in a barn/feedlot type setting with a lot of other sheep.

Dr. Kerr had euthanized the ewe just before our class, and we opened her up. It turned out the ewe was pregnant with twins; I would guess a couple months along, as the fetuses were just small hand full-sized. Dr. Kerr pointed out that some of the placenta buttons looked compromised, and the sac around one of the lambs had abnormal white striations. She theorized the ewe was in the process of aborting the lambs, given that her body condition could not sustain them. There is doubt that this ewe would have been successful at bringing the lambs to term and feeding them; so there was really no loss in culling her. It was amazing she even cycled and conceived in the first place, given her skinniness.

We saw no signs of parasites in her abomasum, and her rumen looked good, other than being not-very-full and also lacking in as much fluid as would normally be seen. Thus, the ewe was definitely not eating and drinking well. Her liver and kidneys looked ok, with one tiny spot on a kidney; and her lungs were the same- mostly normal, but some shadows of white striation and a few dots, hinting at some earlier battle with bacteria. Her umbilicus was nicely healed. But, when we got to her heart, Dr. Kerr found a good-sized hole between the chambers.

The ewe also had very swollen knees. In life, it was reported, she showed difficulty getting up and down; and often laid on her side, as if to avoid putting strain on her joints. Dr. Kerr showed us how a front leg should be able to bend at the knee so far that the back of the wrist touches elbow. Yet, this ewe’s joints were so stiff, the leg wouldn’t fold that far back even with force.  I asked about OPP, whether this ewe was too young to show the manifestation of joint disease. Dr. Kerr thought it would be unusual, but not impossible.

The end conclusion was that this ewe, with her weak heart and painful joints, probably just didn’t have the oomph to compete at the feeders and give herself enough nutrition.

Seeing the fetuses was neat, Dr. Kerr skillfully extracted them still in their sacs, so we could see the structures. In the photo above, that’s what the folks are looking at. I love the picture (if you click on it, you can see a larger version), it reminds me of The Last Supper, with each person showing their own dramatic facial expression of fascination, concern, curiosity, and possibly mild disgust.

As always, I was impressed with the kids in the class, they were all right in there looking, touching and asking intelligent questions. Definitely farm kids who are familiar with all aspects of biology, none of them flinched at any of this. Two of the teenaged girls squirreled away the fetuses to take home. I have no idea what they planned to do with them, but further study and maybe a formaldehyde treatment seemed to be on their minds. So great to see kids engaged in life and learning on a Saturday, instead of being glued to their cell phones and dissociated from the physical world with their ear buds in!