This is a fairly easy time of year for our flock. The ewes are mostly in good condition after a summer on our lush pastures, and most are bred, although they’re fairly early in their pregnancies. We haven’t ultrasounded yet (next week), so our two nutritional groups are based on age rather than pregnancy. The adult ewes are currently grouped together with access to grass hay, and the ewe lambs are in a different field with access to alfalfa hay. This will work fine until we know more from their scans next week. Except for Harmony. There is something going on with my girl Harmony.
Eventually I will be dropping bales down the chute from the loft, but now, early in the season, the grass bales are in a stall right off the barn’s lean-to. I simply open the barn door and I’m in a small area surrounded by hay. As I hauled out the required bales yesterday, Harmony was a bit underfoot. I had noticed the day before that she looked thin for this stage of production. I had already dewormed her, so obviously the issue wasn’t one of parasites. Instead of gaining after deworming, it looked as if she had lost more weight — and that wasn’t good! I decided to check her teeth sometime soon.
As I hauled out bales, the ewes found their way into the lean-to and I eventually lost sight of Harmony. But as I went back into the stall to grab the last bale, there she stood, happily munching at the walls of hay surrounding her. Harmony was once a bottle lamb — not entirely, but she got supplemental bottles from me, so she is comfortable being alone with me. She happily munched as I entered the cramped quarters, so I thought I’d take advantage of our close proximity. I closed us in together and got a good look at her — using both eyes and hands.
The first thing I checked was her condition (weight). On a scale of 5 (as described in many sheep references), I like to see my girls at about a 3+ at this point, but she was a scant 2 — really poor for this time of year! Next I checked her lower eyelids for anemia, but she looked fine. Finally I opened her mouth, thinking that she might have lost some teeth over the year. If she didn’t have lower front teeth, it would be hard to tear at the grass. Fortunately, she still has all of her teeth — but that only deepened the mystery. What is wrong with Harmony?
When I completed the exam, I released her and finished my chores. I needed time to think about this and figure out how to proceed. Although her weight is critical at this point, I didn’t want to rush into anything. She was obviously happy; thin, but happy. I wanted to figure out how to treat her over a period of time; this wasn’t something that was going to turn around quickly.
I’ve now done a lot of thinking and talking to other shepherds. There is something that seems to happen to many ewes when they’re 6-8 years old, and if they make it through this period, they age very well. Others, however, drop weight, sometimes stop producing lambs, and seem to just waste away. I worry that this is exactly what I’m seeing with Harmony. Yet, two years ago I saw something similar in our flock, with Gabby. In December 2013, she seemed to be folding in on herself — losing condition and looking very old. I was afraid I would lose my old friend, but somehow we got her through that year. The next summer she bounced back, gaining condition and looking much better, and she’s been fine ever since. So maybe Harmony just needs a bit of TLC to get her through it. I certainly don’t mind trying to help her out if she can bounce back!
Harmony is a sweet and quiet sheep, what we sometimes call “soft-natured.” She’s not pushy or aggressive. Other ewes can easily push her away from the newly filled feeders, and I think that may be what is happening. As a result, earlier today I enticed her away from the field she has been sharing with her flockmates. She happily followed the small amount of grain in my bucket through the barn, out the door, down the driveway, and through the gate into the Pond Pasture, where the ewe lambs currently reside. Although the bucket was now empty, she still trustingly followed me. We wandered through the pasture and up the hill to the Sheep Barn, where we finally encountered the flock of ewe lambs. After a quick greeting, the ewe lambs showed her into the barn where they have an unlimited supply of alfalfa hay and the remnants of a pumpkin. This was why I had moved her!
Harmony and her new companions will have unlimited alfalfa hay as well as some grain. The hay supply is dropped in various spots so that no one goes hungry. Ewe lambs can also be “soft,” and I don’t want any of them to end up hungry. So this barn has lots of food, all the time, for everyone, including Harmony!
She dug right in to the hay, only pausing occasionally to look over at me as she chewed. I don’t know whether this is the solution to her problem, but it’s a start. Here among the ewe lambs, she is in a smaller, less pushy group, and she is easier to pick out each day as I go about my chores. I’ll continue to keep an eye on her, and we’ll see how she does!