Friday, January 15, 2010

January thaw (?) and poor Polly

The weather guy called it that, but really it didn't seem to be quite as much a thaw as a "warm up to around freezing and stay there for a day." No significant snow or ice disappeared. A very slow drip appeared from the porch roof, but that soon stopped.

But it was very pleasant to go out in air that didn't hurt.

We had to slaughter another sheep this week. Poor Polly, pictured, a very pleasant ewe-lamb from last year's P-series, had gotten the septic arthritis, and even though the antibiotic we treated her with killed the bacteria, the arthritis damage remained and she "failed to thrive," as the ag science wonks say.

In her case failure to thrive meant that she grew a little slower than her half-sister Poppy, couldn't stay clean, had many more than the usual dung tags, and ate while kneeling. In fact she spent a lot of additional time on her knees too: her usual rest position was kneeling, not standing as it is for the other sheep.

But this was enough for us to cull her. I couldn't see that we would get good lambs out of her, so off to the butchers she went. I was pretty sad about it because I liked her a good deal. But we intended when we began this farm to avoid the usual silliness that accompanies hobby farm livestock programs, wherein folks allow all kinds of bad and painful things to happen to animals because they decide to treat them like human friends instead of farm animals.

We simply can't afford that approach. We probably do a little better than break even on our livestock operations, now that most of the set-up costs are behind us, but we can't afford to begin paying to own animals again. And it's not good for a sheep to walk around on her knees. Something else bad will happen as a result. We don't cull ruthlessly, but we do cull.

We learned a good deal about the several likely pathogens from this experience, too. All possible bacteria that cause this disease symptom would happily live in the soil where our pigs spend the summer. This is a spot where we scrape up all the manure each fall to allow the sheep to use the same place as a winter yard. This year I left the gate open to the north paddock, and the sheep are yarding up there every night instead. We will likely give a bit more vitamin e and selenium paste each summer too, since this particular lamb had a brief spell of white muscle disease, and that may have contributed.

We tried to get our hands on a vaccine for one pathogen,
Erysipelothrix insidiosa, but it's only commonly available in Australia, where it is widely used. So we are left with management improvements as our sole way to avoid this particular pathogen, and we will need to be swifter in diagnosis and in use of the antibiotic. If we do both, we shouldn't see this again.

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