Thursday evening I had noticed Pippi wasn’t feeling herself. She was standing off by herself, not eating, and acting depressed. She wouldn’t let me catch her, not even with feed. I going to monitor her and see if there were any changes over night, but in the meantime, I would search her symptoms to see what I could find.
Owning livestock means you have to become your own “first responder” for your livestock. What can I do at home that will allow me to heal this animal in a safe and educated manner? Sheep are notorious for getting into all kinds of trouble, and unfortunately you can’t call a vet every time something pops up. Vets are not only expensive, but it can take some time for them to come out for a farm call. In the meantime, you have to study and learn about possible diseases and treatments, either online, reading, or from others that are more experienced. If you have a good relationship with your vet, even better! They may be able to help suggest things to watch out for and help you diagnose certain things over the phone. Even better is a suggestion for which type of medication to have on hand.
Off topic - the issue of antibiotic resistance rising in our livestock (food animals). Rather than treating on an as-needed basis, many commercial farms (and uneducated small farms) are giving antibiotics as a preventative to their animals. A schedule of antibiotics given routinely is resulting in resistant bacteria, fungus, protozoa, and parasites. The fact is that the bacteria, fungus, protozoa, and parasites that weren’t killed by the initial dose of antibiotics go on to reproduce. They have some sort of ability to survive this type of medication, and this ability is passed down genetically to offspring. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is pushing for more antibiotic drug control in regards to livestock farmers, meaning all antibiotics will require a prescription. This is fair for those who use antibiotics as precautionary measures because they are the primary reason these “superbugs” exist, but how does it affect your small-scale farmer? It’s not the same story any more. Every prescription requires the vet to physically see your animal, and typically a prescription is given to that specific animal. What happens when your one sheep who started with some disease has now spread it to your five other sheep? You have a huge vet bill, and for someone (like me) who works full time and runs a little farm as a hobby, can’t afford to call the vet out every single time. Besides the price aspect, we need to realize that a vet is not always able to come whenever we call, it can take days and even weeks for a vet to see your animal, especially if you live in very rural parts of the country. The issue of antibiotic control also reduces the number of people wanting to get into homesteading, small-scale farming, and wanting to “get back to their roots”.
Back on topic - I looked up reasons for why a sheep would lose her appetite and act depressed, which lead to the idea that she might have pneumonia. I learned that with the inconsistency in the weather (cold nights and warm days) that we have been having, it can stress any animal, leading to a weakened immune system. Pneumonia can also occur if the animal is housed in a poorly ventilated barn or in damp areas. Well, being in a barn with several other sheep and having so much rain recently to make them not want to go outside, it could certainly be pneumonia.
I contacted my experienced sheep friends to discuss what to do. I read up on antibiotics like Penicillin and Oxytetracycline (which I thankfully have on hand). I learned of other symptoms associated with pneumonia, such as the classical sign of difficult breathing, high temperature, and nasal discharge. When I arrived home the next day to catch Pippi and examine her, she appeared to be back to her usual self. She had a temperature of 100.4F (normal), no issues breathing, clear nose, bright eyes. Why?
Having discussed further with my sheep friends and having noticed one of the castrated male sheep (called a wether) trying to mount her, we figured she must be in estrus (in heat, cycling). Just like us ladies, we get moody and depressed. Sheep cycle seasonally, usually in the fall and spring. Their estrous cycle is dependent on several factors, including amount of light and temperature. Ah ha! The odd weather we have been having has struck once again! At this point in my story, I have never bred my sheep, so see the other aspect of sheep farming was very new to me! All of my male sheep are just fiber sheep, so they are wethers, but they still have that hormone!
I’m so blessed and thankful to have people I can talk sheep to and work some problems out. I learn something new every day in this life.
This photo is of Pippi (left) and her son Preston (right). He had been ramming her and trying to mount her during this whole ordeal. He ended up being a "symptom" to the diagnosis. Here they are happily eating some hay. There's a dry area of hay from the round bale, so I feed everyone over their so they have dry ground and a place to relax. The horses love taking naps in the old hay.