Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “lambing problems”

What the hay?

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It may look gentle and green, but it’s a SCORCHER out there.

After a cool and very wet spring (that followed an especially wet and waterlogged winter), summer hit us this weekend with a blast of tropical heat. My phone’s weather app is schizophrenic – 99 one minute and 97 the next. Next time I looked it was 102, and then updated to 94. ?! Suffice it to say it’s hot out there. I feel especially bad for the half dozen sheep I haven’t sheared yet. I started one last weekend and she was just too fractious – for her safety and mine. I haven’t had time since and it was way too hot this morning to try, but they are all doing okay by staying quiet and in the shade most of the day. I move them to the pen at night and fill the hay feeder – they ate a LOT of hay last night in the cool of darkness. And about that hay…

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You can’t see the nice, if warm, breeze blowing.  They are keeping cool as they graze down to the nubbins. (My King Conservation District agent would admonish me for this.)

I’ve lamented here before about my many trees and shade (grateful for them right now, of course) and the shade being in opposition with my pasture grass growth. My pasture grass could use a lot of other help too (still need to do a soil test, but I’m 100% sure it could use a paycheck’s worth of liming), but I also have too many sheep grazing on it, especially given its overall weakness. Ideally I wouldn’t have more than 4 Shetlands on it in its current conditions of too much shade, lime deficiency, etc., for it to keep up and provide fodder for more than a month or so. My goal is to keep the flock number to 10 or below, and I’ve not always been completely successful at this. With the lambs this year, I’m currently at 22 (!!) sheep. While I love the sound of that – I would love to keep 22 sheep full time – and 12 of them only weigh 30- 40 pounds each right now, it’s just not feasible here. So even with 10 sheep, I feed hay roughly 10 or 11 months a year. They graze and browse a LOT during May through June, but hay is the primary food source once the May/June jungle growth stops at solstice.

So I buy the best hay I can find, on a weekly quest to find the greenest, leafiest second cutting orchard grass that I can. Every weekend two hay bales go into the back of my long-suffering old CRV. I’ve tried to buy a ton at a time and have it delivered, but that’s not worked out well. One year I bought a locally grown second cutting which looked great when I bought a couple sample bales, but when it was delivered, only about 10% was that nice. The rest was stemmy crap that the sheep wasted with abandon. That was $750 well spent – NOT. Another time I got some “nice” green stuff grown in eastern Oregon…that was loaded with mold and dust/dirt, and, frankly, was probably one of the triggers for my lung thing. So now I range out every weekend, finding a consistently good product at a feed store about 15 miles and a 30-minute drive away. Not the one 5 minutes away (generally a good product, but for a lot more money), or the one 20 minutes away (not consistently good). But any way you slice it, hay from eastern Washington is pretty much the gold standard here for quality/value. And it’s grown in an area with soils notably deficient in the trace mineral selenium. And that, I believe, is at the crux of the problems I had lambing this year.

Like all shepherds, I give my sheep free choice minerals (loose minerals are best for sheep, not a block to lick). This includes salt, of course, but also other trace minerals, including selenium but NOT including a lot of copper (some is important, but not at the rates of other livestock like goats and cattle, as too much copper is toxic to sheep). The sheep have a mineral feeder that is kept full at all times. About 18 months ago I needed more and purchased a bag of a well-known brand that I hadn’t used before. I poured it in the feeder and they nibbled at it. It’s red in color, and more than once I had a fright going out to check on the flock and had a sheep turn to look at me with “bloody” lips. They nibbled at it, but never seemed to nibble much. That’s all right, you don’t want them chowing down on it, but it wasn’t until I had these issues that I realized that that bag I purchased 18 months ago lasted much, much longer than it should have (and I still have some!). So they weren’t eating it as much as they should have, or needed to, and with their selenium-free hay, probably weren’t getting nearly enough of this important trace mineral. When I worked with the vet (and got the recommendation from other, more experienced Shetland shepherds) the first thing mentioned was that a selenium injection be given to my weak babies. And when I saw the dramatic results, it was a face palm moment. While it wasn’t outright White Muscle disease (at least not the acute symptoms) I believe the overall weakness I saw in several of the lambs, and even the birthing issues (C-Kerry’s weak, premature lambs, Pebbles’ very weak ewe lamb, and even the almost 4-hour delay between Duna’s twins’ birth, and her ultimate rejection of the second one), are likely due to this deficiency.

Once I figured this out, I purchased a new bag—and a different brand—of sheep mineral mix. Right away I knew it was a better product. It had the texture and odor I was used to, and, more important, the sheep love it. I cleaned out what was left of the red stuff from their feeder, and poured in about 3 or 4 cups of the new stuff. And had to replace the EMPTY feeder within a couple days!  They were on it like white on rice, as the saying goes. After that first week the consumption has decreased to a normal level, but they love it and are actually using it as it is intended. More telling, the lambs are in it (before they were at weaning stage), and the one I see most frequently in it is C-Kerry’s ewe lamb, who was so weak for her first week that I was afraid I would lose her. She loves it more than any of the other lambs, but the other ones I see most frequently eating it are also the ones I was most worried about as newborns. Go figure and Nature knows best. And, of course, lesson learned.

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Growing fast.  N-Kerry and her white ewe lamb, and C-Kerry’s black ram lamb being obnoxious.  (Need to get the boys all banded soon!)  And Rudy in the back.  He’s adorable.

As a Shetland shepherd, I know my sheep are thrifty, easy keepers. They are hardy and tough, and can survive and produce good wool without being coddled with daily grain or a fancy barn. My sturdy little flock is no exception, and survived even my ignorance in this vital nutrient. I had a lot of firsts with this lambing season – first premies, first time tube feeding, first full-on rejection (likely also due to the mineral deficiency) and first bottle baby. I knew they weren’t eating a lot of their minerals, but didn’t know that could be such an issue. I didn’t know any better. But now I do. They say shepherds never stop learning, and after 7 years of shepherding these amazing little woolies, I can say that’s definitely true. Thankfully, my resilient wee beasts survived my ignorance.

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Despite the heat, Trixie was all cuddles and snuggles today, all but climbing into my lap. We posed for a selfie.

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Into each life…a little luck must fall

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After the wettest winter on record, we are finally starting to see some sunshine. It is very welcome.

So I guess I’ve had a month.  I know, I know, what about the LAST SIX months and my blogging drought?  It’s been an eventful six months, but really, the past six weeks are what I’m going to blog about today.

Everybody has stuff happen here and there.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had things stack up quite like this (outside of the ol’ lung thing of 2014 through 2016 – ha!).  I get that everyone has troubles, that stuff happens, but it’s been a long, long time, maybe never, that I had a Series of Unfortunate Events like I’ve had in the past six weeks.  In that time I’ve seen my car mechanic (twice), a well and pump technician, the veterinarian (twice, for three different animals), a plumber, an electrician, and an appliance repair person. All the while, my work load (the paying gig, that is) was going nuts,(busy with deadline after deadline). I also had numerous calls and texts to the well/pump fella, multiple calls to the two vets I’m working with, and, I won’t lie, a few tears here and there.  So, as of this week, I am hopeful, and trust completely, that this mensus horribilus is over!

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Lambie intensive care.

I thought the car problems were bad, starting at the end of April (engine suddenly losing acceleration – not power – as I was driving down the freeway – wee!, and again then on a back road, and then the check engine light coming on) but that was only $700 or so between diagnosis and fix (she’s still not 100%, but at least dependable again).  The well problem, cropping up about a week later, could have been easily 10 or 20 TIME$ that amount to fix.  But with the help of some awesome coaching by the well guy (who came out and inspected for an initial potential diagnosis) I narrowed it down to a serious leak in the pipe from the pump to the house. When I finally discovered it – directly under the bathtub, which resides on an alcove of sorts on the outside of my foundation: who knew? – I thought for sure I had a spring under the house! Enter the call to the plumber. But despite the stress of searching for the source of the problem, crawling under the house to dig up the pipe/s, and then waiting 4 1/2 days without water for the plumber’s schedule to open up, I got lucky. That was hard to keep in mind when I was going outside, ahem, with the dogs, or heating water for an old fashioned wash up in the tub (using bottled water). It was camping at home, and if it weren’t for the animals I would have skipped out and stayed with a friend.

And of course both of these pale in comparison to the animals being unwell, and especially the dogs, my other heart(s).  The lambing issues were unusual and, for me, new.  I’ll detail these in another post – it was a crazy two or three weeks!  Daisy cropped up with a weird fungal infection on her face and it took a little time to figure it out.  The cure was a gnarly antifungal drug the vet prescribed (and I reluctantly agreed to).  But before I could give her more than one dose, she presented with a weird abscess (best guess) in her face/upper jaw.  She was unable to open her mouth all the way, and the area around her left eye was swollen and she was squinting.  Another trip to the vet (we walked the two miles because the car wouldn’t start) and the cure for the abscess was a round of clindamycin.  It took four days before I could definitively say the medication was working, so I asked the vet for a second week of the drug, just to really kick it.  The great side effect benefit was that it cleared up the fungal infection too.  Yay!  No need for the antifungal I didn’t want to give her. How lucky is that?

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Fresh from the vet, after he scraped and took samples – top of her muzzle and on the side, next to her nose.

Along the way with this major stuff is the not so major stuff (concert ticket problems to resolve with Ticketmaster; the cat escaped out the door one rainy evening and killed a hummingbird at my feeder – I cried and cried and cried over that tiny body, whose death I caused;  a couple days later I accidentally stepped on a banana slug and killed it – I didn’t cry, but I felt so bad about that), and of course the good things too.  The concert tickets worked out and the show was FANTASTIC (U2 The Joshua Tree tour) – providing a much needed break (and, amazingly, that night was also a break in the near-constant rain we had before and after).  AND, because of where the lighting and sound tent was located on the floor, they moved us to new seating.  My $90 seats (which I was really pleased with) suddenly became $400 seats. WOW! Add to this the realizations about my own strengths, and then the truly blessed things – gifts you don’t even realize at first.  Like a well/pump guy who generously shared his time and knowledge with me (via text and phone), over two weeks, and never once getting tired of my latest “what dis?” ignorant question, pointing me in the right direction again and again and coaching me through the digging and discovery.  It’s “funny” because I originally called a different well guy (I was running out of water in the house and I didn’t know why) – one that I’d used before – and they were so backed up with work that they referred me to the one I ended up calling.  And, it turns out, truly a blessing in disguise – he was WAY more helpful than the original would have been.  I got really really lucky.  The electrician that I called was the same, coming out on a Friday evening on the start of a holiday weekend.  I was fully prepared to spend the three day weekend without water, but he came out and tested everything.  It turned out (as I discovered the next morning) that this was a false alarm on my part; there was no electrical or mechanical issue, but I was so ramped up with worry about what the well and tank were doing that I thought I was seeing something that wasn’t actually happening – embarrassing but true, and a $176 lesson.

But through all of this, I learned a lot about my little house, about how things work here, and about my own toughness and determination, about my ability to cope (sometimes not so well, frankly; other times, amazingly resilient) and what I can accomplish on my own.  No car? No problem – I’ll walk, or take the bus. No water? No problem, I’ll make do with bottled water and camping at home. Lambing problems? I can handle that with the help of a vet or two (and I have to say, large animal vets are the BEST), a knowledgeable sheep community, who, when I reached out to them, were willing to help me troubleshoot and recommended care for my unwell newborn lambs. Well or pipe problems? Call for expert help, and roll your sleeves up to help yourself along the way. The well guy – Dave is his name, of Ralph’s Pump and Well – told me that I likely saved myself $1,000 by doing all the diagnostic legwork and digging myself. I couldn’t have done it without him, and told him so (and owe him a beer), but it was worth the hard work to save that money and also to learn not only how things work around here, but what I can do, and a little more of what I’m made of.  Plus, it was good to have something to do besides wring my hands and wait for “rescue” by someone else.  Action is always good, just as stillness can be good (I needed the latter when my brain tried to spin worry out of control).

All is well now, my leaking pipe is fixed, my car is running, Daisy’s fungal infection cleared up (and without giving her the $80 worth of gnarly systemic medicine for 12 weeks – I really could have used that $80, but very, very happy I didn’t end up putting her on that drug), the three weak lambs all toughed it out, fighting to live as I fought to save them.  Sheep are such tough critters! And the washer is now “fixed” – no small feat, considering the juxtaposition of the hoses and lack of access thereto (the washer itself was fine, but with all the water problems, grit had filled the hoses to the machine) — so I can do a two-week backlog of laundry. Clean sheets and blankets galore!

And thank my lucky stars, remembering that upon us all little rain must fall.  This one brings back a few memories, too. Take a listen…ahhh.

But let’s talk LAMBS! See next post for lambdimonium! 20170427_182826

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