Just in Time

We recently had to take a yearling ram to the butcher, after his horn grew into (and gouged out) his right eye. It was a disgusting mess, but we’d intended to butcher him this fall anyway. Fortunately, the butcher was able to take him right away and spare the poor creature a long weekend of agony from the flies. We got the 39# of meat back yesterday afternoon, and will look forward to feasting on it.

Anyway, the yearling ram’s situation spurred me to check our two mature breeding rams. Both have had problems with horns growing too close to their faces, and in the past we’ve had to cut horns short on both of them. Those horns are now growing back, and are getting to the length where they could cause problems. Ram #1 (Dilemma) was just fine; his horns are clearing his face with plenty to spare.

Ram #2 (who, I hate to admit, we have never gotten around to naming) was not so lucky. He’s black, and his horns are black, so from a distance it’d been tough to see where the horns ended and the wool began. But once I caught him and ran my fingers along the horn, it was clear we had trouble. The horn was growing straight into the back of his jaw, on both sides. Left untreated, this was a death sentence.

My options were limited. The horns were already tight against the jaw, so he wouldn’t last until the fall shearing date (when Lisa, our shearer, would be up from Indiana and able to help me cut the horns off). The nearest large animal vet is a long ways away, and would probably charge a lot. Dr. Patterson, the older dog-and-cat vet who looks at farm animals if you bring them to his office, wasn’t an option; this was definitely an on-farm job.

I called Lisa and described the situation. It turned out that she needed to come to Michigan in the next week or so anyway, and would be just an hour or so from our farm. She agreed to make a detour, and to bring what we needed to remove the ram’s horns.

Am I ever grateful she was able to get here so quickly. We did the job on Tuesday afternoon (there is a description of the procedure and some photos in this old post), and we were just in time. The horns were already scraping part of the ram’s face raw, and the flies were having a field day laying their eggs in his flesh. Worse, the flies were migrating and laying eggs all over his neck and upper head. The more wool Lisa trimmed, the more pockets of maggots we found. She decided it’d be best to sacrifice his beautiful fleece and just shear him now, to make sure we uncovered everything.

With his wool out of the way, we easily found and sprayed every pocket of larvae. She then treated the open wounds with salve, and of course bandaged the horns we’d cut. The ram wasn’t happy, and I know he won’t thank us, but I think he will make a full recovery and be just fine.

This incident illustrates something else: the value of having a backup breeding animal. Early on, we tended to keep just one mature male for breeding and to castrate the young rams. Then we discovered that unexpected incidents can come out of the blue and take an animal’s life — leaving you and the flock in a tough situation. This is why we keep two mature rams; had we not discovered this horn problem until too late, and lost Ram #2, we’d still have Dilemma to ensure we have lambs next spring.

Finally, I just want to say again how deeply grateful I am that Lisa was available and willing to come see us on such short notice. I’m not sure what I would’ve done otherwise. Thanks!

One thought on “Just in Time

  1. I agree that Lisa is a great person. She told me about your farm when she came to shear our sheep this past spring.
    I told my dh your situation and his advice is to cull that ram especially if the one you had to butcher came from this sire. He said he wouldn't want those genetics in his flock. Just an unsolicited opinion. Have a great day and thanks for sharing your stories.


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