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The Sad Case of Jenny

Our Leicester Longwool sheep Jenny, a 5 year old ewe, had a rough Winter. After Fall health examinations she made the decision that she would not go under shelter regardless of the weather. She wildly and wide eyed resisted all attempts to lure her into the barn with the others and wait out the snow and rain storms that were a little extra severe this Winter. She lost weight and was looking rough enough that I put up a special shelter and brought her food and water daily and gave her extra rations. She showed no signs of worms in micro-examination or any illness beyond ‘stubborn-itis’ as sheep are sometimes wont to get. Her weight increased and she ran with the herd when the sun came out and the weather warmed. She went out on pasture and within a short time was her healthy active self. Shearing time came and went and she showed a little hesitancy to be handled and after shearing appeared to be ‘stunned’ and wandered around alone for awhile. I did another health exam, fecal exam, eyes, hoof, blood…Jenny was just being Jenny! And within an hour she was acting fine and back with the herd.
We kept an eye on her and put her in a good lush pasture with mostly roughage orchard grass. In her usual and very own insistent way she decided to push her way into the pasture that was rich in legumes and ground peas. Within a few hours during our second pasture check we found her down. The first call went out to the vet who agreed with my diagnosis of foamy bloat and advised immediately water, Dawn dishwashing liquid/baking soda mix pushed as a surfactant to break down the foam. That done we sat her up and rubbed her stomach to move the mixture around and try to push some gas towards one end or the other. When your sheep get to the 220-260lb region and you get into your sixties with serious disabilities this begins to take on the very real look of WORK….but there is a life involved…and my Army captain always said “Do the hard thing, pain builds strength”.
Poor Jenny was obviously suffering. We took 20 minutes and rushed to the Vet office after hours to pick up Therabloat. We mixed that with water as instructed, got the clean tube syringe and pushed a pint of that…again a surfactant to break down the foam which simply was not moving. by now we were considering a direct side puncture of the rumen but without a surgical cannula I was stuck using a sterile large bore syringe or going directly for the scalpel and sewing her up after. We tried the syringe which let some air and liquid out but was quickly clogged with rumen material.
Now at 2AM we were feverishly working in the unseasonally cold May freezing temperatures and considering open side surgery on an animal stuck in the soft grassy pasture under less than ideal conditions. The tool shop lights that I had erected were not bright enough for surgery with 60 year old eyes so we set about making a sled that we could get her into the back of the truck on (300 meters with over 220lbs of unmoving but patiently cooperative weight) to get her to the Vet surgery by first light.
Poor Jenny passed within an hour and I never felt so helpless in my life. She had gone through a rough Winter, 8 weeks of rumen recovery from severe weight loss and she had been slow to adjust to the pasture diet of lush grasses for most of the Spring. Even though the other sheep had rushed the gate into the ground pea patch with her she had the weakest rumen and the greatest desire to eat the most of the lush watery flowering plants of the herd. The grass is ALWAYS greener!
A necropsy confirmed what we and the vet knew had happened. Nothing short of opening her up fully and simply hand scooping handfuls of the foamy mess out of her rumen would have saved her. She joined her ancestors in the ‘Lamb Patch’.
There are lessons to be learned. First, I am in the middle of a project building a ‘sled’ with 12 volt hydraulics under the platform and a 12 volt drive system so that one skinny old man can roll a large immobilized lamb onto the platform, raise the platform 10” off the ground with a button push and then engage the drive wheels and traverse rough pasture 1000 feet to the truck where the hydraulics can raise her into the truck without much effort. That will cost less than 1 lamb at auction to build.
As we get older we have to interface with more equipment to help us do what seemed so easy when we were 30!
Secondly I am investing in a clean surgical room in the barn #2 right off the pasture. When you don’t have time to wait 6 hours for the Vet to get back in the office and there is a critical shortage of vets in the area…so NO ONE can come out to the farm…you have to be ready with a scalpel, a steady hand and some surgical staples. Even though my career was in physics, my early training in the medical field has left me basically competent to follow vet instructions over the phone. So a clean place to operate in a pinch is necessary. Third and finally, THE RIGHT MEDICAL EQUIPMENT on hand! It seems I have a bit of everything and a fridge/freezer filled with medications, and cupboards filled with equipment but somehow I missed ordering a surgical cannula! I could have thrown something together out of 1/4” Stainless Steel tubing in about 15 minutes in the machine shop but the point is that in the emergency I was not ready. So this Spring brings a couple of projects and expenses. All of the expense will be less than the cost of replacing Jenny! And of course there is no monetary value to be placed on relieving the suffering of your animal.
So a couple of slow passing sleepless nights, a couple orders for materials placed and another lesson on my way to earning my Farmers Master’s Degree….but poor Jenny.
I guess we grow and learn and we don’t always win.
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