The health of our lambs can sometimes be counter-intuitive. One would think that when the weather is warm, that there would be fewer health issues than when the weather is cold – but it isn’t quite that simple. Surprisingly, sometimes the worst weather for our lambs is exactly what we have been seeing for the past few days: cold days followed by very warm, humid days. When our weather changes dramatically in this way, I am always on the look-out for sick lambs.
The problem is not so much the temps themselves, but the fact that the lambs become overheated and stressed at a time when they aren’t yet used to the heat. Besides that, the humidity in the air makes it a perfect storm for any virus or bacteria in the lungs. In this type of situation, stressed lamb plus active bugs in perfect conditions end up being equal to sick lambs with pneumonia – so we are even more vigilant when the conditions are just right.
On Saturday, our day’s high temps reached up near 80 after several days last week with a high in the 50’s. It just so happened that we had planned to work on Saturday, weighing all of the lambs and evaluating their conformation and fleece, so a good opportunity to really look at each of the lambs. Earlier in the week, Peigi (a colored Romney lamb) had been displaying signs of pneumonia: lethargy with high fever (over 105F). I had treated her on Wednesday with a long-acting anti-biotic, so assumed she would be fine. On Friday, I had found her sister, Pegeen (another colored Romney) also down with the same symptoms, so I treated her with the same drugs. I thought this was being managed. I was wrong!
On Saturday, when we entered the barn, it was obvious that Peigi was in rough shape. She lay in the straw in the creep area, not wanting to move at all – even letting other lambs walk on top of her as they made their choice of feed. I quickly scooped her up and took her temp, surprised to find it normal. It was obvious to me that this girl was struggling to live – so much so that I was honestly afraid that I might have to explain to our two young helpers that day about life and death, and how death is the only possible ending to life – and that it sometimes comes earlier to some than to others. I can honestly say here that I was dreading having to have this talk with them!
I quickly called the vet and he agreed with my diagnosis. We decided to switch to a different antibiotic and also treat her with a shot of cortisone to reduce the inflammation in her lungs. We treated her early that day, but even when we left late in the afternoon, I was still not sure she would survive. I was thrilled the next morning when Peigi seemed to have bounced back: when we came to the barn she was not only up, but she was running with friends and generally looking like she was back to normal. I continued her treatment as specified by the vet and thought that we had thankfully dodged a bullet.
We moved all of the sheep into a new field yesterday, so when I went to check the flock this morning, they were all excitedly grazing new pasture – all but one small colored Romney ewe lamb who lay flat in the grass. As I neared her at a run, I realized that this little ewe was Pegeen, Peigi’s sister. Since the timing of their original illnesses came with two days separation, it should have been no surprise that this relapse would come with the same timing. Even worse, when I finally did get her up on her legs, it was obvious that she had also injured one of her back legs. I scooped her up and we made the trip to the vet this morning.
The bottom line is that we treated Pegeen in the same way as her sister – the same new antibiotic along with the same cortisone. Besides that, however, Pegeen is now also sporting a new blue wrap on her back leg. Thankfully, the vet doesn’t think it is broken – just sprained – so it shouldn’t take long before her leg is healed up and ready to move. Although when I returned her to the field this morning, Pegeen was only interested in lying back down – flat – much like I had found her, several hours later, she was already lying with her head up, watching the antics of the other lambs. It is my hope that by tomorrow, she is back to playing with her sister and learning to use that newly supported injured leg.
So, I am still checking our lambs for pneumonia each day – with the weather as it has been, we just can’t be too careful. Today we made a high of 80F, yet in two days, we will be back down to a high in the 50’s with rain and raw winds. Until the weather stabilizes a bit, the risk is ever-present, and I will keep a close watch. It is always a terrible shame when we lose one that we could have saved.