Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Worries

Something weird is going on in my sheep flock, and it has me worried.

Yesterday I discovered that my superstar worm-resistant ram Nicholai has a mild case of bottle jaw. This is an edema that forms underneath the jaw, usually a sign of anemia caused by a worm overload. Since Nicholai has been so worm resistant that he has not needed ANY worming for the past two years, this came as something of a shock to me.

Usually, before the condition gets that serious, you can see other signs: weight loss, paleness of the inner eyelids, apathy. But Nicholai is at a very robust, healthy weight. His eyelids, though paler than his usual bright pink, are not desperately pale. And until yesterday, he acted as if he was in perfect health... then BOOM! Apathy and bottle jaw.

The only thing that has changed for him recently is that he and his sons were separated from the ewes and put into the ram pen to wait for breeding season. The lambs are acting a little apathetic too. Is there something wrong with the ram pen?

Could there be some toxic weed that is making them ill? Unfortunately, there are plenty of weeds on the farm, many of them toxic. But the sheep tend to avoid those, and anyway, I've never heard of weed poisoning mimicking worm anemia before.

Anyway, I wormed all the rams and gave selenium boosters yesterday, but have not seen any improvement yet. I don't even know for sure it's a worm issue. It could be a mineral imbalance, even a copper deficiency (contrary to what most shepherds are taught about copper being highly toxic to sheep, Icelandics seem to need more copper than most other breeds).

The other sheep have been responding differently this year as well, and I have not been able to pinpoint exactly what the pattern is.

One ewe that I KNOW (from past years) has poor worm resistance has done fine all year. Some sheep that had worm problems responded instantly to the vitamin drench I gave them. Another hasn't responded to any treatment I've given her, but despite a persistent case of bottle jaw, doesn't seem to get any worse.

Both the wormers I've used this year seem to work for us, but I started getting worried about one of them when I noticed that every time I used it, exactly one week later, one or two members of my flock would get a wool break. I can't say for sure that this was the cause, but it happened every time I used that wormer and not when I used the other. Strange!

Part of the problem has been that with so many horses taking over all our pastures this year, I have not been able to rotate the sheep pastures as I would have liked.

It is SO frustrating. I know the right thing to do is to decrease my horse herd. Okay, fine. Most of them are now for sale. Even ones that I don't really want to part with. Because I know it's the right choice for the farm.

But then they don't sell! It's agonizing.

Imagine you're running a big corporation. Markets change, and it becomes clear that you need to downsize one whole division of your company. So, you make the painful choice as to which employees you have to fire. Pink slips for everybody!

But wait! That doesn't solve your problem because, unlike a normal corporation, you're running a horse farm, which means you still have to keep paying all those fired employees' salaries and health benefits, and provide them with office space until they find a new job, which in some cases could take months or even years.

It's just the worst of both worlds. I feel sad because I have to sell the horses, but then they don't sell. I can't enjoy them fully while they're here, because they cost too much to feed and we're worrying about money constantly. If I lower their prices to try to sell them faster, am I losing more money than if I waited and paid to feed them another few months? Who knows?

And meanwhile, the sheep are getting the brunt of things because the horses are so much more demanding: more feed, more care, more pasture required.

Yes, some of this is my own fault for expanding the horse side of the farm too quickly. But I really thought I would have sold at least half of my sales list by now. These are really nice quality animals, but the market sucks right now. It just eats me up inside to be able to SEE my mistake, and be trying to fix it, but not be able to.

Ah well. I need to just give it more time, I guess. We'll get through this. We have to. The horses will sell eventually, and the sheep will regain their fair share of the farm facilities.

And presumably, I will have learned some valuable lessons in the meantime. I'm certainly doing my best.


Anonymous said...

HI Nancy,

As you note, bottle jaw (hypoproteinemia) is usually associated with parasites (h. contortus especially), but not always. Anything that can cause low blood protein might be responsible: I wonder if their nutritional needs are being completely met while waiting in the ram pen? They could show the edema anywhere but it is usually associated with the jaw since that is down while they are grazing and shows the effects of gravity. Other possibilities could be copper (as you note) or other mineral deficiencies, stress (also possible in this case), smoke inhalation (??) and a couple more serious diseases. But I would go with the nutritional guess first. Some high protein supplements might help. It can take a while (couple weeks) to completely disappear since the sheep has to build up protein levels. FWIW, I have not seen wool break occur as a result of worming (unless you count damage I initiate when I grab one of them incorrectly!!). It is common after a fever even if they get over it themselves and we never notice. Good luck.

Jess6092 said...

Hang in there Nancy! I understand all of your frustrations and anxieties, and know that eventually it will all work out. Until then try to just enjoy all of the great things about your farm, especially the constant love and affection from your animals.

Keep up the good work! Hope things work out soon so you can relax a little bit!

Meggie said...

Goodness! I'm away from your blog for a few days and all hell breaks loose. You are the busiest woman I know! Wish I had some words of wisdom but everything I know about sheep, I learned from you! Hang in there...

Ravenhorse said...

Hi Nancy,
I 've been reading along for a while now and just wanted to say *HUG!* Hang in there!!! I know what it's like to feel like no matter what you do you can bearly keep your head above water! It DOES get better... Really! As tot he sheep issue, I know nothing about sheep (Other than what I've read on your site and that they are adorable and I want one! *G*) But I was wondering can sheep become wormer resistant/build up a tolerance or immunity to it like horses? (I know we have to rotate wormers with our horses so that doesn't happen, could it be the same with sheep?) Sorry if it sounds dumb but I just wondered if that could be part of it...
Hope things start looking up soon!!!

Nancy Chase said...

Thanks everybody. I really appreciate the words of support!

Raven... yes, sheep parasites can become resistant to chemical wormers, just like horse parasites can.

I don't think that has happened here so far. One way of helping to prevent it (which I practice) is to only worm the sheep who are showing signs of needing it.

A simplified explanation of why this method helps:

When you worm a sheep, all of the susceptible worms it carries die. A few resistant worms may be left. Do this enough times, and ONLY resistant worms are left. They breed and multiply, and then you're in trouble.

If you only worm each individual sheep when absolutely necessary, all the sheep that you don't worm continue to shed susceptible worms onto the pasture, which breed with the resistant ones, and dilute the resistant strains, so you don't have as much of a problem.

It's kind of counter-intuitive, but it does slow the development of resistant strains of parasites.

Anyway, here on my farm, the worms do still seem to be affected by the wormers I uses. I'm also experimenting with concentrated liquid garlic (shown to help limit the growth of certain worms) and supplementation of certain vitamins and minerals to help the sheep resist infestations as much as possible.

Other methods I plan to try next year include: copper oxide boluses, diatomaceous earth added to the mineral mix, and most importantly, pasture rotation.

If you raise sheep, learning about parasite control is even more crucial than with horses, so I'm constantly trying to learn more about it.

Mark said...

To carry your corporate analogy a little further, it is like hiring foreign workers who don't speak English and you don't speak whatever they speak. How can they tell you what's wrong? You got guts Nancy. I can say that much. Hang in there.