The Leader of the Band is Tired…

…and her eyes are growing old.

Poor Dot.

She turns twelve tomorrow, and it’s not looking like it’s going to be a very happy one. I’m not sure what “twelve” translates into in people years, but it’s a lot. Certainly far beyond the age when anyone should be having a baby and then getting pregnant with twins just two months later. She’s just plain burned out, and I fear we may have entered a tailspin from which we cannot extract her.

Dot has “leader sheep” genetics, and it’s always shown. The flock takes its cue from her, and if we can get her headed in the right direction they will almost always follow her. When the flock is spooked, or nervous, they will all bunch up in a pack behind her. For instance, when we drive them into the barn on shearing day, it’s remarkable the way she stands out in front while the rest of the flock cowers at her tail. Even this morning, when I led her to a private pen, the whole flock began bellowing in protest as she exited the main sheep area.

I’m beginning to suspect that Dot rejected her lamb because her body is telling her she doesn’t have the resources to care for the little one. But that’s led to a problem: her big udder is now completely engorged, and it can’t be comfortable. I’ve begun trying to milk her out, to relieve the pressure, but the udder is like a rock. It’s hard to get anything flowing. I’ve even begun putting the lamb back on her, to see if she’ll have any more success. As a measure of how lethargic Dot has become, she doesn’t even protest or try to butt the lamb away. As the lamb suckles, I stroke Dot’s drooping neck and tell her what a good sheep she is.

I’ve never seen her like this. She won’t rise to her feet without help. Once on her feet, she does little but hang her head. She sniffs at her hay, but doesn’t eat. She won’t even eat grain, and she’s always loved grain. She did nibble down some kelp meal. On our breeder’s advice, I’ve tried giving her some warm milk. She won’t drink it from a pan, so I’ve resorted to feeding her from the bottle before I feed the lamb.

My jeans and sweatshirt are filthy from all the time I’ve spent on my knees, trying to assist her and extract milk. I smell like lanolin and cruddy hay. But I don’t care. I just wish there was more I could do to help.

She has a small fever, but it’s not really bad. The biggest issue right now, beyond the engorged udder, is her appetite. We’re trying to get anything we can “down the hatch” and into her system: kelp meal, dolomite powder, and vitamin C. I put the powders into an old film canister, tip her head back, pry her mouth open, and toss the minerals down. I then “drench” her three or four times with a 50cc syringe filled with apple cider vinegar, warm water, and cod liver oil.

On a farm, animals come and go. You learn quickly not to get attached to them, and mostly we’ve succeeded. But there are exceptions. Big ones. Especially the dogs, and certain of the barn cats; it’s really hard to lose them, because they’re companion animals. The livestock are not companions, but Dot has always been in a category of her own. Not only is she the leader, and the oldest, but she was in our very first group of four sheep. Nearly every adult in our flock can trace its genetics back to her.

It’s going to be very hard to let her go, and I just wish we had more time to get used to the idea. So…I’d best be getting out to the barn and seeing if I can get some more milk out of her udder before bed. And see if we can get her just one more birthday on our farm after this one.

2 thoughts on “The Leader of the Band is Tired…

  1. We had a goat recently with a huge amount of edema which prevented effective milk-out. I fed her chamomile and parsley and she came around within a day. You can even make strong chamomile tea and use that in your vitamin coctails. Also try warm compresses on her udder. If you can't get her milked out, she must have a plug and/or tons of edema. The slight fever would indicate a plug and the onset of mastitis. So, warm compresses and lots of massaging and stripping the udder. If MYF ever had mastitis she'll know it will knock you down fast. I had it bad once and literally felt the worst in my life. But its not fatal. If you can get the milk moving, support her immune system and keep her hydrated, I would think, even at her age she'll come around. Now you know sheep a lot better than I do and you're looking at her… so I guess I'm just trying to encourage you to not lose hope. She may need a nice retirement home after this, but I think she can pull through.

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  2. Yes, hydration is very important! If you don't keep electrolytes on-hand, even just adding some salt and milk of magnesia (for the magnesium) to the water you're drenching her with could help. Calcium is also important. Ginger and garlic are good for stimulating the immune and digestive systems. The hard decision, always, is Dot's. Do you think she wants to stay? There is nothing quite so special as a good ol' ewe. And Icelandics give us so many chances to get it right for them!

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