Note: Since readers have varying tolerances, this blog might not appeal to those who are quite squeamish. If one of my sheep-raising readers has experienced the same skin/wool loss in his or her flock, please let me know what, if anything, you and your vet discovered.
When you run over a hundred sheep during the summer, things happen. I check on the sheep daily, making sure that all are still healthy and well. It’s not often that I run across something I haven’t seen before. With over sixteen years of shepherding, most stuff that is going to happen has happened at some point. Yet, in my flock check today, I came across something totally new — and it has me a bit concerned.
It has been very hot over the past few days. The last ewes to wean their lambs are now among the ewe flock in the West Pasture, where I started my rounds. Since I was out in the early afternoon, most of the ewes were hidden away in various shady spots: under the tree, next to the barn, along the fenceline, etc. I had my box of graham crackers out to entice them, knowing that they simply can’t resist the crackling of the waxed paper wrapper as I reach in and break each cracker into eight or more pieces. I walked every corner, looking for sick or injured sheep who might be in hiding. When I finally reached the lean-to at the old barn, I came to the last group of ewes. As I turned to finish the open packet of crackers, I saw McKinley.
McKinley came to us as a lamb in 2013 from Tawanda Farms in California. She had lambed for the first time this year and given us a lovely set of triplets. As one of the last group to wean their lambs, she had just rejoined the ewe flock last week and was thrilled to be back out on pasture after ten days of getting first-cutting grass in the old barn. She eagerly came forward for my graham crackers, and as the ewes hungrily snatched the crackers from my fingers, I looked them all over. As I scanned the group, I saw that McKinley had obviously caught some of her wool on something, since there was a bit of it pulled away from the skin on her rump. I remembered that during the first two days or so after we pulled the ewes from their lambs, she had had a wet rump whenever I came to check on the group. Wet wool can often be a sign of fly strike, but I remember that the familiar odor was not present. I caught her and looked at the skin at the base of the staple to see if anything was amiss. I found no reason for wetness. I eventually decided that the wet wool was simply that — wet wool. I teased her that she needed to find a sleeping spot farther from the water tub so the other ewes didn’t dribble all over her. In short, I didn’t really worry too much about it. Within a couple of days, her coat was again dry, and whatever caused the issue had resolved itself . Or so it seemed.
Today when I caught McKinley (and began feeding her dozens of cracker pieces to get her to hold still while I looked under her coat), I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Yet when I pulled up her coat, a whole sheet of wool and skin came off of her rump! Her exposed skin was smooth and brown — much like tanned leather — and what came away in my hand was a huge piece of wool held together by dried dead skin. It was honestly quite shocking — and particularly when you consider that much of our income comes from wool! My first thought was whether this might be a contagious condition. I was worried for our flock.
As I looked her over carefully, McKinley was oblivious to my find. She acted normally and was thrilled with the good fortune of being the recipient of so many crackers! I thought back to the incident with the wet coat during weaning and remembered the same oblivious behavior: I hadn’t worried at the time because she acted normally, telling me that there was nothing amiss. So what had killed off such a huge chunk of her skin in so short a time? I quickly bagged the chunk of skin and wool this afternoon and headed for the vet.
Unfortunately, the vet doesn’t always have the answer! He hadn’t seen anything like this before, and we don’t have any idea what caused the sloughing of skin and wool. Nor do we know whether her wool will regrow once the skin totally heals. None of our other sheep have had this problem — not even the nine who shared close quarters with McKinley during weaning — so we’re thinking that it must not be contagious. I would love to know what caused this, since there is nothing in the barn that could have spilled or gotten onto her skin. The cause of the peeling is unknown, but as you can see from the photo of the portion I took to the vet (which amounted to about half of what peeled off) and the photo of McKinley with her bald patch showing, the amount of skin that came off is substantial. It’s a mystery that I will continue to research — and I welcome any input that might help!
New Fleece Update: Skirting of our ram fleeces is finished and they will be released to our email notification list on Thursday, June 16th, most likely in the late afternoon (between 4 and 5 p.m. CDT). I will also be offering a handful of ewe fleeces at a discounted rate at that time! Stay tuned!