Sunday, May 23, 2010


One morning I walked into the barn and found 85 orange, a big white lamb lying in the corner. She struggled to her feet and tried to run away, but her front legs buckled. She straightened them and staggered out of the barn and into the rain.

I stared after her, trying to problem solve. She might have been in the barn because of the rain, but none of the other lambs had sought refuge from the soaking gray haze.

She might have been the lamb born crippled, but when she recovered her balance, her front legs were straight. She didn’t have diarrhea so it wasn’t worms or coccidiosis.

I dashed after the lamb and grabbed her just as her front legs collapsed under her again. I picked her up and carried her into the barn. This was a big, heavy lamb. But she didn’t struggle in my arms. I laid her down by the water trough and collected the thermometer from the barn cabinet. I knelt down beside her, inserted the thermometer under her tail and waited for it to equilibrate. 102˚, 104˚, 104˚. Okay, she didn’t have a fever. I filled a bucket of water and a bucket of creep feed and set them beside her.

I don’t know what I expected to happen overnight, but the next morning she was worse. The lamb didn’t even struggle to her feet when I walked into the barn. She hadn’t eaten any of the feed or drunk any of the water. Her temperature was still normal, But she just lay there, breathing.

We own three sheep raising books and two sheep veterinary books. None of them listed diseases that matched 85 orange’s symptoms. I gave her 3 cc.s of Exonel, a broad spectrum antibiotic, just in case.

The next morning 85 orange was dead.

Dave carried her body to the compost pile and covered it with manure. We both stared out at the rest of the flock, depressed. It had been such a good lambing. What had gone wrong?

A week later, 99 orange scrambled to her feet when we found her in the barn, stumbled and recovered to dash out into the rain. Dave checked the barn later in the day. She was laying in the corner. When he encouraged her to her feet, her knees buckled and she staggered out of the barn. He came back to the house for the antibiotic and took a fecal sample into the vet. We’d vaccinated all the lambs, lifting each one over the fence when we were done, so that we knew they had all been vaccinated, but maybe something had gone wrong. The sample was negative for worms and coccidia. We paged through the veterinary books again.

Our corn was moldy; everybody’s corn was moldy, but the tests we’d had done indicated that the mold shouldn’t have been a problem. The sheep had been on new pasture for almost a week, they barely touched the corn we put out; but we decided to discontinue the corn.

99 orange didn’t have a fever. What were we missing?

In the morning, 99 orange was dead. I couldn’t bear it.

A week later, 92 orange staggered to her feet when I walked into the barn. Her front legs buckled. I turned around, walked back to the house and called the vet.

“Is this the lamb we did the fecal on?” they asked.

“No. She died. But this is the third lamb with these symptoms in two weeks.” They squeezed us in at the end of the day. I carried 92 orange up to the car and settled her on the towels Dave had spread in the backseat. He drove her to the vet’s.

“Selenium deficiency,” he said when he walked back into the house an hour later. “Dr Weckwerth gave her an injection. I’ve got more in case anyone else looks sick.”

“Can’t we just give all the lambs selenium?” I asked.

“He said the therapeutic dose could be toxic in a lamb without a deficiency.” I sighed, more waiting.

A week later, we couldn’t pick 92 orange out of the flock. She had completely recovered. Recovery was like a gold star. Dr. Weckwerth’s diagnosis was 100% correct. Our diagnostic skills had been deficient. That’s why he’s the vet and we’re the shepherds.

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