Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mystery Lameness---Solved!

Not too long ago, I learned a painful-but-funny lesson about the importance of observing ALL the clues and symptoms and not jumping to conclusions when a sheep is sick.

Soon after the 9 new ewes arrived from Monica's farm, one of them developed a severe sudden-onset lameness in one front leg. There was no obvious sign of injury, only a small amount of swelling just above the hoof. The sheep limped badly for a few days and then the symptoms gradually abated.

A few days later, another sheep had the same symptoms, then another and another. Over the space of a couple of weeks, 5 of the new sheep showed this sudden lameness.

What could it be? We've had trouble with black widow spiders here before, but I couldn't imagine an army of black widows out in the pasture only attacking our new sheep.

Selenium deficiency can lead to lameness, but the symptoms don't look like what I was seeing, and besides I know Monica has done a great job of keeping her flock's selenium levels up, so the new sheep wouldn't be on the brink of deficiency so quickly no matter what.

Why was this affecting the new sheep and not my existing flock? I tried to think of some change in food or environment, some toxic weed in the pasture, that could cause the symptoms I was seeing.

Soon after, one of my previous sheep (Phoebe) showed the symptoms too. I was getting really worried. It was an epidemic, and I couldn't figure out what was causing it!

Then, a few days later, I was out picking up fallen pears under the pear tree and throwing them over the fence so the sheep on the other side could eat them---something I do about every other day this time of year.

As I was doing this, I reached for a pear and got stung on the finger by a yellowjacket. Not surprisingly, sudden severe pain and swelling ensued.

It was then that I finally realized that the exact same thing had been happening to my sheep!

All the sheep I got from Monica loved to eat pears, while my other sheep were indifferent to them---all except for Phoebe, the ONE sheep of mine that also got lame, who would stand and eat pears all day long if you let her.

So, to my (somewhat painful) relief, it wasn't an epidemic after all, not a mysterious sickness... just a particular group of sheep who like pears enough that they are willing to risk getting stung to eat them!

Here you can see a slightly comical video clip of Phoebe eating a pear. Because sheep don't have any top teeth in the front of their mouth, they have a hard time just biting off pieces of pear to eat the way we do. Phoebe solves that by shoving the entire pear into her mouth so she can chomp on it with her molars.

You can tell by her expression that she is thoroughly enjoying the challenge!


Kelly or Alex said...

Sometimes it is just the most simple thing and we completely overlook it. Thank goodness it was just yellowjackets. I do hate those buggers. They can be dangerous and mean.

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

I learned so much from that video.

I learned more from this one though. I'll keep my Russian one, thank you.