More considerations regarding parasites

In the last blog, I outlined some of the options I’ve been considering regarding last year’s heavy parasite load as it now begins to impact this year. Because of our recent mild winter, I know the parasite loads in our fields will be heavy, and need to decide on a plan of attack moving forward.

I mentioned on Monday that one option was to keep about half the flock on hay while allowing those who needed the best nutrition to graze half of our pasture land, allowing the other half to lie empty and killing off the parasite eggs and larvae there. This plan initially sounds like it would work, but when you look more deeply, it gets a bit complicated. The most vulnerable of our flock are exactly those who need the nutrition the most: the lambs and yearlings. Putting them on our fields this spring means exposing them to levels of parasites never seen here before – and that makes me nervous. I am risking the young as I feed them well!

If I am to go this route – and that is still a big IF – I will need a plan in place to keep them healthy, and that likely means the use of one of three families of dewormers available for sheep. Using the wrong dewormer, or using the right dewormer at the wrong time will only create a bigger issue: it will add to the resistance of our parasites to that dewormer while giving us less bang for our buck. I know that I will need a good deworming plan to pull this off, and that’s where my local vet comes in. I am going to need help to figure out the details, so I gave him a call yesterday and asked whether he might be willing to let  me take him to lunch sometime – and discuss parasites (of all things!)! He politely agreed, and we scheduled a luncheon for the end of the month. More on that coming soon.

Meanwhile, my mind is still churning with other possibilities. I do know several people who graze other species on their acreages, and who might be willing to trade grazing land with me for some period of time. There are a variety of issues with this plan, however. First, our sheep are coated and our land is fenced with this in mind. We spent years cutting, tearing down, and pulling up barbed wire fences that had grown into the ground or through trees on our land. Barbed wire is a staple in rural America, but is terrible for wool sheep – and worse for coated wool sheep. We would have to supply our own temporary fencing within any barbed wire perimeter – and I no longer have any of that type of fencing. When we put in our permanent pasture fences, we sold off all of our portable fencing at a used equipment auction. We have lots of panels that we use to pen in sheep around the barn, but they are heavy to use and move in quantity – not an ideal for this type of thing. If I limit my investigation to those who have other than barbed wire fencing, I find myself incredibly limited in options.

Besides that, I am again looking at grazing lambs (so that they can learn to graze, finding out what is or is not edible from their dams), their mothers, the still-growing yearlings, and possibly the thin older ewes. In the beginning, the lambs would go into the field with their mothers first, and then be followed in the rotation by the yearlings and old ewes. Eventually, when the lambs are weaned, they would enter the field first, followed by their mothers and the other ewes after they move out. Although I am always nervous when we first put our lambs out into our fields, I know that they are just outside my door, and I can still keep an eye on them. Once weaned, they have the llama and one or two old “granny” ewes with them to keep the little ones out of trouble – and I still check them multiple times a day to keep them safe. If they are grazing miles from here, this multiple check-in each day would be less likely to nearly impossible. This would be fairly similar to turning out forty-one kindergartners into a field to live and then checking on them once each day. There is honestly a lot of trouble that young lambs – like young kids – can get into in a 24 hour period of time! It worries me that I wouldn’t be able to see these issues until it could very well be too late – and I am having trouble getting past that!

So, for the time being, I am still considering all of my options – and looking forward to the lunch with my vet. I am hoping that as the days go by, one of these options will begin to come forward as the obvious better option, while the others will begin to fade back. Perhaps if my vet can help me come up with a plan for keeping my lambs safe on our very heavily parasitized fields early in the year, I can graze them on half until July 1, and then clean them up and graze them safely on the clean half after that, letting the grazed half rest during the second half of the growing season. It would require an investment in hay for the non-grazing sheep – but better that than losses due to continued grazing on “dirty” fields all summer.

I wish I knew the “right” answer, but for now, I think I have to be satisfied with the thought that it is a work in progress. Oh, how I hate indecision!

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  • Jane M says:

    Where do the sheep that are not grazing stay? I hope that is not a really stupid question…

    • Dee says:

      No, it’s a really good question! There would be no way for you to know without asking! Those of our sheep who are not actively grazing are normally confined to a paddock that has access to some form of shelter. We feel it is important to make sure they have space to run, move, and get exercise. They have access to sunshine and rain, but can also get out of undesirable weather, too. There will obviously be a few plants that come up there, but with so many sheep on this relatively small paddock, their main source of feed, by far, is hay we provide.

  • Terry says:

    Is there some kind of parasite chemical that
    you could apply to the fields while the
    sheep are still not grazing that would at
    least lower the parasite count number?


    • Dee says:

      Oh, Terry, how I wish that were true! The parasites do travel up and down the grass blades daily, so after a time and they are not picked up by sheep, they simply die off. This is the reason that after the right six month break, the field is considered “clean.” I’m still working on my plan!

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