We arrived home this past weekend from a week and a half on the road. In fact, it had been almost three weeks on the road for me, if you include the time I spent in Oregon and northern California. We obviously had plenty of laundry and unpacking to do, plus all the farm work that had been set aside while we were gone: sheep to move, waterers to clean out, etc. Our to-do list was fairly full, but very near the top was a visit to see how Petal was doing.
You might recall that earlier this summer we sold Petal (along with a nice group of Romneys and Romeldale/CVMs) to a farm near us. While traveling last week, I got a call about her odd behavior and came to the conclusion that she likely had meningeal worm – a parasite that is fairly common and innocuous in white-tail deer, but lethal in sheep as it burrows through brain or spinal cord tissue. I put these new shepherds in touch with our vet, but I strongly suggested they immediately begin treatment with heavy doses of dewormer in hopes of saving her young life — which they did. In fact, I’m still in awe today at how quickly they recognized the problem and responded with treatment. It literally made the difference between life and death for this young lamb.
Although I had been in touch with them via text nearly every day since that first call, I really wanted to get over there to take a good look at Petal and the rest of the girls. I’ve had situations in the past when new shepherds thought all was well, when in reality things were going downhill and they simply didn’t have the experience to recognize it. I’ve learned that in this type of situation, a quick visit to be sure the danger has passed is worth the effort — just in case. So as soon as I got all of our own sheep settled and grazing in their new pastures, I headed over to Josh and Emilly’s farm. I was looking for two things: that Petal had indeed stabilized and was functional enough to graze and take care of herself in spite of the damage from the hopefully now-dead parasite, and that the rest of the flock was asymptomatic. I didn’t want the parasite lurking there, ready to bring down another member of their flock in short order. Besides, it was also time to discuss breeding groups for fall and the news from my trip, so we had plenty to do during my short visit.
Visiting this particular farm is always a treat. They have two young boys who remind me so much of my own children when they were young. As we adults sat down and discussed how I go about putting together breeding groups, the boys played around us, reminding me of times past. It wasn’t long, however, before we headed outside to see Petal, and I think they were as excited to show me Petal’s progress as I was to see how she was doing!
I have to admit that I was overjoyed to see her. I get about one call each year from a shepherd who has a sheep with meningeal worm — probably seven or eight over the past ten years. Only one of them lived, and she took many months to become self-sufficient again. She didn’t get up onto her feet for weeks and didn’t walk for even longer. I knew what severe damage this parasite could do.
Yet, as we walked up to the fenced area where the sheep grazed, there was Petal, in among her flock. When the sheep saw us, the girls ran to the farthest corner of the field, and Petal ran with them. Yes, ran! She held her head with a bit of a tilt, and if she took a turn to the left too quickly, she stumbled a little — but here she was, six days out from the diagnosis, and she was functioning fairly normally. It was an incredible sight!
When we offered corn to the flock, they all came forward — and Petal was probably the most aggressive at pushing in to nibble grain from our open hands. Again, she held her head at a bit of a tilt, but her eyes were clear, bright, and focused, and there was no doubt that she was on her way to a full recovery!
The rest of the flock looked really good too. I watched them move and saw no signs of neurological deficits: no awkward gait, no stumbling, no “star-gazing” or lack of coordination. They all looked really good!
So I can add one more success story to my list of sheep who were affected by meningeal worm. In this case, the shepherds recognized the early signs and treated quickly with both a steroid and heavy doses of Panacur dewormer, and I think that’s what saved Petal. Meningeal worm is one of those ‘illnesses’ that snowballs in very short order, and there is no definitive diagnosis until the sheep is dead. And of course by then it is too late. By being vigilant and acting quickly, these new shepherds turned around a dire situation. I love a success story!