Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nursing a sick lamb

Monday night (yes, almost a week ago), I was doing chores, and I saw a ewe lamb run past a three-month-old ram lamb. He fell down. It made no sense, so I made a mental note to come back and check on him. After finishing the rest of my chores, I went back and saw that he had not moved from the spot where he fell. As I approached him, he didn't attempt to run away. When I picked him up, he felt unusually light and limp. Then I smelled it -- diarrhea. This is the little guy that had coccidia a month ago, so I immediately gave him more of the medication, assuming that the coccidiosis had returned. I gave him a 50/50 chance of being alive the next morning, because I've almost never seen a goat survive after they are so weak that they can't walk. This is the first time I've ever had a sick lamb though.

But he was alive Tuesday morning . . . and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and even today. Each day, he has been getting weaker, which hardly seems possible. And every day I've been thinking that tomorrow he would be dead. Six or seven years ago, I would have immediately put him in the truck and driven down to U of I Vet School. I did that with more than one goat. Since the vets are also professors, and they're surrounded by students, I had the benefit of listening to them explain everything to the students. I learned a lot. And one of the things I learned was that vets can't do much for livestock that get sick. Since they're considered "food animals," the emphasis is on herd health. If an animal has something contagious, the advice is to cull. If an animal has a condition that doesn't affect the rest of the herd, the emphasis is on the bottom line. How much is this animal worth? Livestock vets don't see a lot of clients who are emotionally attached to their animals. It took me more than a couple years, but I eventually made the mental transition from "pet owner" to "farmer."

After reading Diarrhea (scours) in small ruminants by the University of Maryland Extension Service, I checked his eyelids and realized he was anemic, so he was also probably fighting worms. I've given him Cydectin for the worms, as well as daily doses of "pig paste," which is a probiotic with iron in it. I've also been giving him NutriDrench, which is propylene glycol and molasses with vitamins and minerals. Yesterday, he was no longer able to lift his head to drink, so I started giving him water with corn syrup in a bottle. I really thought he would be dead this morning, but when he made it through another night, I decided to see if he could tolerate goat milk. He loved it and eagerly sucked on the bottle.

I'm trying not to get attached to him, because he also happens to be a cryptorchid (has only one testicle descended), so he is worthless as a ram and can't easily be castrated to become a fiber wether. Why am I trying so hard to save an animal whose fate is to eventually become lamb chops? Some could reasonably argue that it would be more humane to simply put him down. At times like this, I wonder if I have really come so far from the emotionally-attached pet owner in suburbia. I've no doubt that some "real" farmers would have put him down by now, rather than invest the time to bottle feed him, medicate him, and attempt to clean the diarrhea off his back end. I'm not sure if I'm eternally optimistic or naive, but I just keep thinking that if he was meant to die, he would have died. Who am I to make that decision? So, I'll just have to keep trying to get him well, while guarding my heart against his inevitable end.


Michelle said...

Deborah, you're my kind of farmer -- or at least, have my kind of "heart." I'm cheering for you and the lamb!

Donna said...

Been there and done the exact same thing. It's OK to be a farmer with a heart.


Indeed it is okay to be a farmer with a heart. There is something about us that always wants to help a helpless critter. Keep us posted, please.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks, ladies. He's still hanging in there this morning. There's not much change from last night.

Anonymous said...

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