As some of you may recall, I had a lamb that became very ill on July 16. He ran a high fever and had almost constant seizures. I would put green food (such as one grape leaf) into his mouth. He would mechanically chew, swallow, and immediately have another seizure. I had to hold his head and dip his muzzle into water for him to drink. Sometimes he was able to take one or two sips before seizing. Sometimes he couldn’t manage even that. I administered high doses of antibiotics in case this was a bacterial infection. When there was no change in 24 hours, I administered high doses of two different kinds of anthelmintics in case there were parasites migrating through the spine (such as deer worm). I spoonfed him yogurt. I placed various yummy plants and leaves that sheep like in his mouth. I gave him probiotics and minerals. He got syrup or molasses in his water.
“Well, why didn’t you just call a vet?” you are probably wondering. Well, there really aren’t a lot of vets with sheep experience around here. There aren’t many vets that make farm calls, either, and they’re really busy. The last time I called a vet with a farm animal emergency, I was called back three days later to let me know they could be here in two days. Unfortunately, the animal that I called about had already expired. When it comes to veterinary medicine, we farm folk are often on our own.
Three weeks ago, he was able to hold up his head to eat for the first time since he became ill. He was unable to stand unassisted.
Two weeks ago, we started “standing” which means I would stand him up, and he would be able to hold himself for about 20 seconds before his legs would crumple. The legs on the left side, particularly the left foreleg, wanted to curl under and not bear any weight. I stopped bringing him forage, and he had to graze for *most* of his feed (I still picked his favorite leaves for overnight). I would pick him up, he would stand for 20 seconds and collapse. I would pick him up again. At first, I grabbed him by his wool and eased him gently to the ground, but I snapped a finger that way. When I snapped another one, I decided that he was just going to have to hit the ground. After impacting the ground a few times, he made more of an effort to stand. I also corrected his stance frequently (separated his legs so that he would have a wider than usual stance which gave him more stability). By the end of the week, he was standing for five minutes at a time to graze and, indeed, refused to eat unless he was standing.
That all sounds pretty good in theory. In practice, what this meant was that I was pretty much confined outside most of the day except when I came inside to start a load of laundry, bring in a basket of laundry, and to check the internet (grin). I would stand the lamb up, turn to walk away to feed the chickens, and WHOMP! “Baaaaaaaa”. Turn around, walk back, stand up sheep, correct his leg placement, fill up a bucket with chicken feed and WHOMP! “Baaaaaaa”. Turn around, stand up sheep, correct leg placement, and WHOMP! “Baaaaaaaaa.”
My neighbor walked up to the gate while I was out with recovering sheep last weekend, and said “Sweet baby Jesus, what IS that thang?” I could understand her confusion. Instead of the usual fluffy, well-rounded sheep, there was this mutant skeletal thing lying there quietly chewing his cud after another fall. The high fever and lack of eating had made a weak place in the wool, and it was sloughing off by the handfuls, leaving his neck, shoulders and part of his back bare (where I grabbed him to try to save him from falls) while other areas were still wooled. His spinal bones were evident. He had prominent hips. His head still bobs a bit. I would shear the rest of the wool off but, frankly, he needs the padding for the falls.
“Oh, that’s one of my lambs. He’s recovering from an encephalitis-like illness.”
“Well, is he ever going to get better?”
“Oh, he’s well on his way to recovery. He is 100% better than he was just last week!”
She was quite skeptical. “The only way that thing could have been worse is if it were dead!” she stated.
This week, too, I have been completely tied to the house. I have been trying to teach the sheep how to walk again. “But Swampie!” you may say. “Aren’t sheep BORN knowing how to talk?” Yes, yes, they are! Unfortunately, he’s had neurological/spinal cord damage, and I’m not sure why things aren’t working, just that they aren’t. At the beginning of the week, this is how I took him out to graze: I’d pick up and move the strong right foreleg one step, then the weak left hind leg, then the weak left foreleg, then the strong right hind leg. To move great distances, though, I was still putting him on a tarp and dragging him.
At the end of the seventh week since he became ill, he is able to stand and graze for 15 minutes to an hour at a time before falling. He cannot get to his feet by himself due to the weak left side, but I’m hoping that improves by the end of next week. When I pick up and move forward his weak left foreleg, he now moves the rest of his feet by himself. That left foreleg still gives him problems and buckles occasionally, tumbling him to the ground. He can take one, sometimes two steps with it before losing his balance. I bought a dog harness for him so that I could support him when we have to walk long distances or hurry. He does well with it. Couldn’t use it before because he just wasn’t strong enough.
Next week will probably be more of the same. Now that he’s kinda sorta ambulatory, he’s in even more danger than he was previously. For example, one day this week I left him in the shade to go inside to get dinner started. I went back outside to find him lying in the sun panting frantically with his tongue hanging out. Yikes! Great time to take a few steps out into the sun and fall down. I didn’t put all that work into him just to have him succumb to heat stroke! I quickly moved him back into the shade and brought water (which I can’t leave within his reach lest he fall into it and drown). He has also fallen over onto a fire ant bed. THAT was fun. We’ve been practicing getting up all this week, but he’ll have to put on more weight/muscle first, I fear.