Pumpkin complications?

I wrote on Monday about the windfall of pumpkins that we were once again able to get for our flock this fall. The sheep love them, and I have been good about taking a number of pumpkins out to each group of sheep every day (our flock is currently divided into ewes, ram lambs, and adult rams — each in their own area). The question, however, is how many pumpkins are enough for each group — and conversely, how many are too many?

In past years I have always based this decision not on what is fed but on what is left. I would often begin with a small number of pumpkins the first day (maybe one pumpkin for each fifteen sheep in the group) and then increase each day until the group didn’t finish the previous day’s allotment. At that point, I would feed one less than that number every day thereafter until they were gone. This got the pumpkins out into the fields as quickly as possible (once they freeze, they are much harder to break – and the sheep can’t get into frozen ones unless they’re broken) and didn’t waste the free food source. Over the years I have come to realize that I always end up at about the same count: about one pumpkin for every five sheep every day until they are gone.

Yet feeding out this number of pumpkins does make for some issues. Not all of the ewes eat pumpkin, although most will eat some each day. Even among the ewes who do eat some of the daily allotment of pumpkins, they don’t all eat the same amount as the other ewes — nor even the same amount each day. And that can cause issues. If sheep change their diet suddenly (like eating no pumpkins for a few days and then eating a lot), it can result in digestive upset — and that is a bad thing for sheep, just as it is for us.

Sweet Pea loves her pumkin, but is it causing the scouring that has become so evident on her back legs?

Sweet Pea loves her daily allotment of pumpkin, but is it the pumpkin or a heavy parasite load that is causing her scouring?

When I was out in the field recently, breaking the day’s ten pumpkins for the ewe flock, I noticed that Sweet Pea, our youngest and smallest Romeldale, had been scouring for the past few days. Usually, scouring (the sheep term for diarrhea) is a sign of a heavy parasite load, and since this has been a really bad year for parasites, I would normally have immediately treated her with a dewormer. Yet as I watched her in the field that day, I noticed that she is quite the pumpkin eater! Really! Once I start breaking pumpkins, she is constantly underfoot — not only under my feet as I break them, but also under the other ewes as they eat. With such a small body, she is able to scoot between and under the other ewes, pushing in at any of the broken pumpkins and finding a place to eat where other lambs cannot get in. The other young ones often get shoved away from a broken pumpkin, which is why I break the pumpkins into pieces and spread them around. When they are broken and spread, it is my hope that every ewe, no matter how young or small, can find a place to enjoy a bit of this heavenly treat undisturbed.

Yet Sweet Pea has turned pumpkin eating into an art — and she is a master! She is always finding a creative way in to gobble up more pumpkin until they are all gone. Based on what I saw, she probably eats more pumpkin per pound of body weight than any other ewe in the field! And that started me thinking. Maybe she isn’t scouring from parasites, but rather because she is eating way too much pumpkin in one sitting — day after day! Maybe the solution is to limit her access to pumpkin. But how on earth do I do that while still allowing all of the other ewes to enjoy their annual treat?

In the end, I decided to deworm Sweet Pea. If, indeed, the scouring is due to parasites, the dewormer should eliminate the problem fairly quickly. On the other hand, if she continues scouring through the next few days, I will know that the problem is most likely her insatiable hunger for the pumpkins she so loves. Honestly, I hope the dewormer clears things up, since I have no idea how to keep Sweet Pea away from overeating the pumpkins without reducing what I am feeding out — and any reduction will likely mean that other ewe lambs will not be able to find a piece of pumpkin for themselves. This is likely the first time I have ever hoped for one of my lambs to have a heavy parasite load. Meanwhile, I will start thinking about ways to limit her pumpkin intake, just in case!

Skirting progress: I have completed skirting our lamb fleeces, and plan to have them ready to release to our customer notification list sometime in the late afternoon CST on Thursday, December 1. My personal schedule doesn’t allow for an earlier release because of the Thanksgiving holiday, so I thank you for your patience!

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  • Jane says:

    Well here’s a stupid comment. You said that pumpkins are a mild de wormer. Maybe Sweet Pea wants the pumpkin because she needs deworming? … !

    • Dee says:

      Actually, I did think of that – not a stupid comment at all! I think that she is likely self-medicating with pumpkin much as the lambs do in the Rock Pasture with acorns, which are also a natural dewormer (but are also considered “poisonous” to sheep). In Sweet Pea’s case, it seems that the scouring was actually due to the combination of both a high parasite load and too much pumpkin, since the dewormer has improved things already. Let’s hope that this deworming allows her to eat a bit less pumpkin to allow her digestion to return to normal!

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