Monday, August 31, 2009
Another lamb! and copper and sheep
Okay, I admit, I was holding out on you yesterday. We actually have two new lambs! On Saturday, Majik gave birth to this beautiful little ewe, whose father is also a mystery -- and yet another reason to do DNA testing. With this little girl being so black, I'm wondering if Albus might be daddy. We've never butchered a ewe, and I don't want to wind up with a flock of unregistered sheep, so DNA testing seems like the obvious solution.
Now perhaps you'll forgive me for holding out on you yesterday when I tell you that I had a reason -- I want to talk about sheep and copper. You see, Majik looked absolutely terrible at the end of winter. I was worried that we might lose her. She was thinner than I've ever seen a sheep, and she was anemic. Her face was almost white. Her wool was half as long as it had been in past years. Deworming her with Cydectin didn't do much to improve her condition. Providing a protein tub from Sweetlix didn't help either. She is only seven, which isn't old enough to be having this much trouble maintaining good body condition and wool growth.
In goats, copper deficiency can cause a loss of color in the coat, but people in the U.S. are very worried about copper toxicity in sheep. When my goats were copper deficient, I did a lot of research on the topic and learned that in Australia and New Zealand, they've started using copper boluses in sheep. They've given them to ewes during pregnancy, and they've given them to lambs after weaning.
Copper boluses contain tiny bits of real copper -- copper oxide, which is a different form of copper than what is in feed mixes and minerals -- copper sulfate, which is much more readily absorbed. Researchers have given copper boluses to sheep for two reasons: copper deficiency and as a dewormer. It has worked well for both problems. As a dewormer, it only works for haemonchus cortortus, which is a stomach worm, because the tiny bits of copper sit in the animal's stomach for three or four weeks as they dissolve, creating an environment antagonistic to the worms. It doesn't work for intestinal worms. And it may come as a shock to a lot of shepherds that sheep could ever be copper deficient, but they have diagnosed this problem in New Zealand and Australia.
Looking at sheep minerals, I think we've gone overboard, since many of them contain molybdenum, which binds with copper, making it less available to the animal. So, in addition to not providing sheep with any supplemental copper, they're also giving them something to keep them from absorbing whatever tiny amount they get in their diet naturally.
Since Majik had all the signs of copper deficiency, I decided to give her a copper bolus, using the same dosage as I would for a goat her size. As you can see from her picture, she is much improved. Her face is almost completely black again, and her wool is growing normally. She's gained weight, and she just gave birth to a healthy ewe lamb. I'm glad she is a colored sheep, because the bleached hair on her face was what made me consider copper deficiency. If this had been one of my white sheep, I probably would not have considered copper deficiency as a possible culprit.
For more information on this topic, you can visit the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control.