Last week I attended a talk on the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). This continues to be a topic that “everyone is freaking out about” when I don’t think most need be. On hand to present were Amber Itle, a WSDA Field Veterinarian and Cat Marrier, a WSDA Feed Specialist. I was already pretty familiar with the law change, having read up on it when it was proposed in the Federal Register, and following it as it became law. But I did pick up a few tidbits of interesting info I didn’t know!

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2009Lamb

I was pleased to get a post card from WSU’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (WADDL) a while back, advertising that they now offer a pregnancy test. I had been paying $6.50 at BioPryn, so I was liking the $4.50 price at WADDL.

I sent in a batch of blood samples that were collected 5/1. The report came back saying all the ewes were open. I noticed once was on the hairy edge: her S-N ratio was 0.297, and anything greater than 0.300 is considered pregnant. I had a hard time deciding whether I thought this ewe looked pregnant, or just fatty. Even her  udder was ambiguous, it looked slightly full, and, in the last few days, growing larger; but certainly a long ways from imminent-to-deliver. Well, we were all wrong, she had a lamb this morning (and now her udder looks quite full). WADDL claims a sensitivity of 99.3%, so once again, I seem to have fallen into their small slice of error range, which is… not helpful. I had almost stopped monitoring or looking at this ewe, and had started putting away all my lambing bag supplies, relying too much on the test results to tell me I was done with lambing for the year.

I have not had the BioPryn test be wrong for me in either direction, tho they claim a similar sensitivity. I may go back to them, despite the $2/sample extra charge. They are also much faster at processing and returning results, which is preferable for me, since I’m using the information to plan next steps. Anyway, I was glad for the test to be wrong, as it’s always distressing to have a mature ewe be dry, and I was contemplating what to do with her. Now I know, she lost her pregnancy less than a month in, and re-bred in late December. Which is actually kind of a testament to her prolificacy. It was a nice surprise.

Lambing is cruising along, up to 44 lambs this morning. I am on vacation from work now, which gives me a huge time breather. It is amazing how much of the day is eaten up by the routine: check for newborns and weigh & tag them; check for troubled births, assist; feed the bottle lambs; feed the herd am hay; fill the water buckets in the barn; move the fencing; move the water hoses and troughs; top off mineral feeders (they really hit the kelp hard in these last weeks of pregnancy…); get old ewe in the barn standing up and walking; medicate the ones that need it; launder wet clothes and used towels; feed evening grain; check, check, check. It’s easy to forget to eat in there, and lost sleep is part of the bargain.

On Sunday we had friends over for BBQ. The sheep happened to be pastured immediately below where we eat dinner at our picnic table. So I was able to keep an eye on the sheep until it got dark around 8:30. No births seemed to be happening. Our friends left a couple hours later, so I went down to do a final check around 11pm. As I approached, I saw a ewe on her side with her legs kicking in the air- a sure sign of a struggle to push out a stuck lamb.

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We are off and running on spring things. It’s been a warm Feb-March, so I  was able to get the sheep on our new south property pasture for grazing at the beginning of this month. I was nervous about it, since we’re pushing into territory that’s been occupied by coyotes for a long time. But, so far so good. I  set up the trail cam on the far edges of the graze strips, to see if any coyotes were lingering there, eyeballing sheep. Not a single one spotted. There are plenty out there, heard singing in that far woods at night. So, the presence of the protection dogs must be doing the trick. It sure is nice to have all that extra grass, tho a lot of labor to string portable fencing there too. I was also hauling water, since that’s many hose-lengths away from the nearest faucet. Fortunately, the sheep don’t drink a whole lot when they are eating wet, green grass. I captured only a few in the picture, but I have 79 adults and yearlings in that grazing group.

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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.

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I’m cleaning off some things on my desk, and one is the slide deck & notes from a presentation by Dr. Robert Van Saun at the KHSI Expo last August. This was a fantastic presentation titled “Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Sheep to Promote Health and Performance.” He focused on pregnancy feeding. Those of you who know me well will recognize that this topic was right up my alley, especially on the subject of macro and micro element supplementation; and its health consequences.

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BloodTubes

I bred my ewes starting November 7th. After three weeks, I re-grouped all the ewes, and left them with one ram, with a new crayon color. He serves as a clean-up ram and hopefully the blue crayon will clue me in on any ewes which cycled, or re-cycled, in that second round (three, so far). And, I can register those lambs, since I’ll know who the sire is.

After the second three weeks, I’ll put my other two rams in with the ewe group for the winter, for easier management. If any ewe breed later in the season, I just won’t know when or by whom. This is generally ok, I usually get one or two of thee “mystery” lambs in late spring or early summer. If they’re boys, they’ll go into the slaughter channel. If they are girls, I sell them at a slight discount as 50% recorded ewes. I like managing one group of sheep over the winter, and I have an ample market for butcher lambs and recorded ewes, so this management tradeoff works out for me.

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