Sheep get health checks too!

Every morning at dawn before my border collie, Bella, herds our sheep out to pasture, I do a health check.  So, what is a sheep health check? My health checks involve looking at each ewe or ram carefully to make sure they don’t have a health issue they’re trying to hide.  Keep in mind sheep are prey animals.  Survival instincts tell them not to show any signs of weakness or sickness until they feel really, really bad.  Because in the wild, a weak animal is fair game for a predator.  My sheep try really hard to fool me into thinking everything is always okay.  Sometimes it is not.  So, I look at their feet and make them walk away from me.  Are they limping–maybe it is just mud between their toes (sheep hate this) or a twisted ankle or maybe a cut that needs to be treated.  Are their eyes bright and ears alert or do they look lethargic, dull and sad?  Is there any discharge coming from their nose?  Are they breathing okay or is it labored and raspy?  For pregnant ewes, I even like to smell their breath because a fowl smell indicates pregnancy toxicity.  This is a very important part of flock management.  One morning early spring 2013, a ewe that usually likes to be a “groupy” was off by herself.  I walked over to her to see if she would stand up, which she did, and immediately her two lambs wanted to nurse.  She quickly moved away and seemed to flinch in pain.  This was odd, so I separated her out and took a closer look.  Her temperature was high, one side of her udder was hard and hot and she definitely did not want her lambs nursing.  So I called the University of Missouri-Columbia Food Animal Clinic and requested a veterinarian visit.  Sure enough this ewe, named Tootsie, had acute mastitis.  If I had not brought her up for care that morning, she probably would have died.  For two weeks, 3 times a day, I had to milk the “bad” milk out of her sore udder and put hot compresses on it.  She would not eat her feed, so I had to go out into the field and cut different grasses for her to try and eat. And, I had to bottle feed her lambs.  But, she recovered fully and both sides of her udder are fine and she ended up raising both her lambs herself after her udder healed.  Not all “sick bay” stories are successful, but this one was and it is so good to see her out in the field with lambs at her side.  Below is a picture of one of my favority “pet” Katahdin Hair Sheep ewes named Coreo.  She loves the camera and always wants her back scratched when it is her time for a health check!

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