Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pregnancy toxemia

I got a call last night from a neighbor who keeps sheep, about another neighbor who needed help with theirs, and, long story short, finished up jumping in the car with the sheep kit and the 30-30 and going on a house call. Not that I'm a vet, but we are starting to get some experience with sheep and their numerous medieval diseases, or at the least learning to cope, the hard way, and anyway there is no vet for sheep that you can call, really, in Maine.

The rifle is the vet of last resort for most of us small sheep farmers in Maine.

This was a down ewe with what was most likely pregnancy toxemia, which, according to the online Merck's Vet Manual and a dozen other sites and the Storey's sheep "bible," is caused by either too much or too little nutrition in pregnancy. The sheep has a hard time supporting the growing lamb and begins to eat its own tissues. The toxemia comes from ketosis, as protein is broken down for energy. The cure is either glycol or glycerin, as an energy source, to stop the need to breakdown tissue, and then of course, better nutrition. In this case the animal hadn't been grained much, and there had been a transport too, recently, adding to the stress, which also fits the diagnosis.

And, miraculously, after the glycerin was administered (snagged from Aimee's soap-making supplies), and after about a twenty minute wait, the ewe was rolled onto its legs, whereby she then got up of her own accord and ambled, albeit somewhat shakily, off to join her sisters.

I wasn't that surprised. I've become familiar with the miracle cure aspect of some of these sheep problems from our own bouts with White Muscle Disease, where the sheep and lambs are up and back to normal within ten minutes of administering the shot of BOSE. Milk fever is supposed to be a quick recovery too.

Sheep really do spend half their lives figuring out how to die, but some of the time you can save them rather miraculously too.

Very gratifying, if you can keep your nerve and do the first aider thing.

Better yet, of course, to have good systems of prophylaxis and prevention in place. We grain our pregnant sheep twice daily, so we haven't had this one yet. But we had bad luck recently with Maggie's tetanus, Larkie's vaginal prolapse, Polly's septic arthritis, and the ram-fight last fall.

Three out of four of which, were we really that experienced and deadpan self-honest to boot, we would have to admit that we could have avoided. Only Maggie's tetanus was unavoidable and not the result of one of our own mistakes.

We can say this because we gave her the vaccine as we should have right on time. But each of the other cases was partly our fault. If we hadn't tried to have two rams on one small farm, Abe would still be alive; if we didn't keep pigs on the same ground as sheep, and if we hadn't allowed Polly to get WMD by being more careful with feed, she would never have gotten septic arthritis; and if I hadn't lacked experience and confidence in my midwifing of Larkie, I would never have had my hand in her uterus so long looking for that second lamb that wasn't there.

Still, I do think we are learning from all this. And not just the sheep vet stuff. We'll be better people as a result, calmer in any emergency.

Back in the day when I was in the RAFMRS, fellside emergencies were supposed to be my job. I handled quite a few human casualties over the years on the teams, but frankly my testosterone level was so high as a kid, I was always a little nervy.

I think I'd be better at it now, after all this practice on sheep. Just not fit enough. Too old and fat.

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