Friday, April 30, 2010

Maggie gone to tetanus poisoning

Well, yesterday was a bummer. And that's a total understatement.

I was sitting in the smallest room on the throne when I happened to look out of the window, which in our house with no real need for privacy overlooks the Back Forty, and said out loud "what's the matter with that sheep."

Aimee, seeing the same thing I saw from the kitchen window, headed out fast, while I, in some disarray, did what I could to expedite matters. Automatically I grabbed the rifle as I went, but thought better of it en route and left in in the garage. But, as my creative writing instructor said when I was in college, the rifle was taken off the wall and so would need to be used before the story was done.

We arrived at the spot to find Maggie, one of our own Womerlippi farm born and bred ewes, having what can only be described as a spastic fit on the grass. Legs extended, couldn't get up, raking her legs back and forth, and twitching, neck extended. The worst passed, and we helped her up, but she was reeling and wobbly.

Calcium, I said. Milk fever. But we don't have injectable calcium on hand. We had mineral and vitamin paste, so we tried to squeeze some of that into her. As we were squeezing, we noticed her jaw was locked. Not calcium, then. Calcium would have been easy.

Tetanus. The dread disease of sheep. Our first case. Next to no chance of recovery.

We had the anti-toxin on hand, but it was old and out-of-date. Also penicillin. The treatment is massive doses of both, in a usually futile effort to counteract the current toxin in the nerves, and kill the bacteria to prevent more.

Maggie got all the anti-toxin we had, 9,000 units, to no avail, as well as 7 ml. of penicillin. But she was no better by evening. I observed and nursed her on and off most of the day while finishing up a report I had due at work. She was obviously very poorly, and very unhappy, so just before suppertime we decided to end her misery and I shot her and buried her out back.

And now we have Quinn, an poor orphan lamb. Luckily five-week old Quinn is well into eating solid food by now, grass and grain, while her aunt Nellie doesn't seem to object too much to nursing her. Quinn won't suffer too much, and may not even need a bottle. We'll know when we see how lively she is by the end of today. If she's still bright eyed and getting around OK after 24 hours, she'll be getting enough food.

But Quinn is still wandering around checking all the ewes, because one of them must be her mom, right? Poor little lamb.

We felt robbed too, because Maggie has had all her tetanus shots each year religiously, including one this year a couple weeks before giving birth. But the shots don't always work, say the papers and sheep blogs. And I nicked her tail with the scissors while dung-tagging last week. Sprayed it immediately with Blue-Cote, but it was a nick and went deeper than usual because it was on the end of the tail stub.

Sometimes I think that being a shepherd is like being a character in a soap opera, where life is accelerated and over-dramatized. Sheep really do live out their lives doing their best to die, like the old saw says. And they get far too many weird diseases. It does get very soap-opera like.

But then I stop and think again and realize that this isn't fiction. That was a real bullet I had to put into Maggie's poor woolly head.

There must be something good psychologically for the shepherds that comes out of having to do this kind of thing, some kind of ultimate reality check, some end to illusions and fantasy, perhaps. A deeper ability to face facts, maybe.

I can't for the life of me decide what good it is right now.


  1. I'm very sorry to hear about Maggie, Mick. Hopefully Quinn will grow up big and strong and carry on the Maggie legacy to the Womerlippi farm.

  2. I expect she will. She's doing fine after 36 hours without Mum. Aimee ordered replacement antitoxin, and a different brand of vaccine. You do the best you can but sometimes it can never be enough. This was one such case.


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