Death on the Farm

Today one of the ewe lambs I brought to the farm last week died. This was not altogether unexpected. After the dash to catch and pen the lambs in the trailer, I noticed one had bottle jaw, defined by Merriam Webster's medical dictionary as "a pendulous edematous condition of the tissues under the lower jaw in cattle and sheep resulting from infestation with bloodsucking gastrointestinal parasites." I knew that the seller's farm had wormed the sheep two days before we arrived. I also noted that only two sheep in the flock had bottle jaw. Rather than unloading the affected sheep from the trailer, the owner did not charge me for the ewe until we were sure of good health. Today during morning chores the ewe was not with her flock and by lunch she had died.

This incident brings up all sorts of "farmer" thoughts.  

I am glad that we have multiple paddocks where I can quarantine new animals on the farm. In the next 6-8 weeks I will worm the new ewes again and watch for other health issues.

If the former owner had not offered the ewe for free until proved, I would not have taken her home. My limited experience has taught me that at least. What I had not thought as carefully about was the  answer to the what-if-she-survives question. I had hoped to use the ewe in my breeding program but I do not believe that would have benefitted Lilac Hill in the long run. Adding a ewe that is not resistant or resiliant to worms is not a ewe that should be in any breeding flock. With wormer medications losing their effectiveness against parasites, better management practices, including targeted worming, rotational grazing and multispecies grazing as well as breeding for resistant and resiliant sheep will build the strong flock I envision.

I am glad that I follow an experienced farmer's advice to watch my animals every day. With only five days of observing the new sheep, I knew that something was wrong with the ewe today, even though her bottle jaw seemed to be resolving.

Following Penn State recommendations, we composted the body. Rather than relying on the assistance of a friend and his equipment, as we have in the past, our small skid-steer handled the task. Today I was very glad that we are far along enough in our farm building to know that dead animals should be composted, to own the skid-steer to manage the heavy work and to be able to operate the machine effectively. Having a just started compost pile of last winter's chicken bedding and a few bales of rotten hay at the edge of the property, also made the job easier.

It is a rotten day on the farm when an animal dies. Fortunately, rotten days usually teach me something about being a better caretaker of this farm.