Live And Let Die

Friday 10th August, 2007.

Hi everyone,

Spring must be coming because new life is burgeoning everywhere I look - newborn lambs frolicking in the fields, wobbly calves, chickens making nests and this morning I spotted the first couple of blossoms on the plum tree. Anna & John next door got their third set of twin lambs yesterday, and have a couple of singles already. It's been a lean time grass-wise all over the Waikato, as the unusually heavy and frequent rain has slowed the grass growth. Today and yesterday are the first couple of warm sunny days we've had for 2 weeks. I have grass envy - everywhere I drive my eyes are drawn to the lush fields where no stock are grazing, and I think ooh, what a waste, my sheep would love that.

There is a metabolic disorder in sheep called ketosis - any Atkins devotees out there may be familiar with the term, it is what you aim to achieve with the Atkins diet. In ketosis your body is forced to burn stored reserves of fat. According to Wikipedia: "Acetone, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are ketones (or ketone bodies) generated from carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids in humans and most vertebrates. Ketones are elevated in blood after fasting including a night of sleep, and in both blood and urine in starvation, hypoglycemia due to causes other than hyperinsulinism, various inborn errors of metabolism, and ketoacidosis (usually due to diabetes mellitus). Acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are an important fuel for many tissues, especially during fasting and starvation." Unfortunately with sheep it is far less desirable and often fatal. Commonly referred to as 'sleepy sickness', it depresses the sheep's appetite to the point where she stops eating, and then the process accelerates. Drenching with glucose may help if the sheep is still up and about.

A few days ago I thought B1, the Suffolk mother of twins (above, with twins on the left), was looking a bit gaunt. She had been moved down to the gully with her friends (they are hard to separate), because now that the fences are finished, I can safely let them in there where there is more grass. I was still giving them sheep nuts (pellets) and grain as a supplement, but when I moved them up to the top paddock again on Tuesday to ring and vaccinate the lambs, I noticed she had lost condition. I asked the neighbours who said not to worry, it was just because she was nursing twins. But Wednesday I saw she tried to eat the nuts and grain and couldn't get it down. I called the vet who diagnosed ketosis and gave her some shots of B vitamins, calcium and a glucose drench. I had instructions to give her glucose twice more yesterday and once every day after that until her appetite comes back. It's not coming back. Wednesday she was not too hard to catch (normally impossible unless penned), yesterday she was easy to catch and could walk up to the pen a bit wobbly (one of the obvious symptoms), this morning I had to drag her to a sitting position to get the drench down her throat. She was lying glassy-eyed on her side, if I had not seen her chest rising and falling I would have thought she was dead already. I'm pretty sure she's a goner, and I'll have genuine orphan lambs to raise. I might end up feeding them anyway as she could use the burden being lifted if she survives. It's hard to separate lambs from a living mother though. I figure it's time for aggressive therapy. The vet says no more than 3 drenches of 100ml glucose a day or she might get bloat or diarrhea, but bugger that if she's going to die anyway, so now I'm going to start with 50ml molasses dissolved in warm water, mixed with 50ml of the glucose solution, every 2 hours, and we'll see what happens. If that has no effect, I'll start doing it every hour. Now I know how important extra feed is to a ewe with twins. You live and learn. Or in this case, she dies, you learn. It's a hard lesson in reality on the farm.

If we lose B1, it will not be the first experience of losing stock. You remember how I had to pull one of the sheep out of the creek? At the time I thought she looked thinner when she came out, but I looked and couldn't find any evidence that she had miscarried in the water. About 10 days later, Merinda and 2 of her friends were playing down in the gully, and came screaming and crying up to the house, hysterical, saying there were 2 dead lambs in the creek. Sure enough, there they were lying as if peacefully asleep on the bed of the stream. I figure she either gave birth in the water (they were a good size as if full term) or she had them by the creek and one or both fell in and she went in after them. Very sad either way. I had to get them out with a shovel and bury them - not one of the nicest experiences of my life. Now I know why that ewe distrusts me - she thinks I stole her babies.

In between writing this I have been out to check on B1 and the twins several times. I have now managed to get a bottle of milk into both lambs so they should pretty quickly get the hang of sucking from a bottle. B1 did get up and move around a bit after the first drench, but for the last 2 she has just sat there looking miserable. I don't know if I should try to get her up to give her the chance to empty her bladder, or if it's better to let her rest.

Meanwhile the work on the extension proceeds in fits and starts. Today I let the builder know that we have guests arriving on the 14th September and we need to be finished by then. He didn't sound hopeful. It's hard to believe that it could take 4 months to build 66m2 of extension, isn't it?

We have a new arrival in the form of a 4 week old ewe lamb. I drove miles to pick her up on the understanding that she was a black face lamb, and when I got there I thought she was the ugliest sheep I'd ever seen. However I couldn't weasel out of the deal, and it seemed silly to come home empty-handed after driving for 45 minutes. She has a head like a pig when she drinks from her bottle. Jonathan agrees with me but Merinda thinks she's adorable. I bought her as a companion for Lancelot, whose lonely cries during the day have been driving me nuts. If only I'd known I needn't have bothered as he was about to get the twins as companions. She is supposedly a Suffolk, but with brown markings rather than black. The dark circles around each eye and on the nose and ears inspired the name Panda. I thought Ugly would be too mean. She's a good big solid lamb though, and she'll probably make pretty babies with a black Suffolk ram next year, so maybe she'll grow on me. Lancelot certainly appreciates her company.

The ducks have moved out to the chicken coop with an infrared heat lamp to keep them warm. After 3 weeks in the kitchen, they had quadrupled in size and the smell was getting to us. You're supposed to keep them inside until they're fully fledged at about 6 weeks, but Duck a L'Orange was beginning to look too good, so out they went. Also I think Jonathan was about ready to say "it's me or the ducks". The chickens seem to appreciate the extra warmth too, I have found more eggs in the last few days than ever before. Or is that just the smell of spring in the air?

Miss you all,

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