Saturday, 2 December 2017

Unexpected death

It's often said that sheep have a death wish and if there is a disease to catch they will. Whilst this is an exaggeration there is no doubt that sheep keepers do have to contend with a lot of health and welfare issues, and to be constantly vigilant for any signs of illness. They have to know their flock. Because sheep can be adept at hiding sickness, as a protection from predation, small changes in behaviour can be a sign that something is wrong and therefore worth investigating.

Those who keep sheep will be familiar with routine preventative treatments and times when sheep health becomes vulnerable: birthing problems, vaccinations against clostridial diseases, worming treatments, hoof care, protecting against fly strike and so on.

Our Wiltshire Horn sheep are a primitive breed and generally have robust health. However, we seem to have had more than our fair share of health concerns this year. Wiltshire Horns are a short coated, self-shedding breed which much reduces the risk of fly strike, which is an annual worry for sheep keepers. If this is caught in time it can be treated successfully, but if the tell tale signs are missed then it often results in an unpleasant death with maggots eating away at the sheep's flesh. 

Despite the reduced risk of fly strike with Wiltshire Horns we had a lamb who succumbed unusually late in the year, in mid-September. This was after a bout of humid and mild weather which were ideal conditions for the culprit blue bottle and green bottle flies to lay their eggs. Fortunately, the fly strike was seen early enough, treated successfully and the lamb recovered.

However, this week we had a poorly ram lamb who died. It had been a bit 'off' for a few days with some mild diarrhoea. I treated all the lambs, currently separated from the breeding ewes and ram, with a worming drench. The ram lamb seemed to pick up a day or two later and then, rather unexpectedly, I saw it flat out in the field. It was still alive but quite weak. I called the vet out who arrived within the hour but the lamb died as the vet was treating it. It is not clear what the diagnosis was but there were signs and symptoms of an infection and it was quite dehydrated. The other lambs seem fine. 

Our sheep are not pets but are kept for their meat. Nevertheless, there is still a sense of loss having engineered the lamb's conception and overseen its birth and early development. It's natural to wonder what else could have been done. The reality is in this case, probably not much.

The ram lamb last March


  1. We were told about sheep and their death wish when we started keeping sheep too and goats can go down hill very quickly as well.
    Over our years keeping sheep and goats we lost 1 ewe just after she had given birth to 4 lambs - broke her pelvis. Then lost a ram to fly strike when it was being "looked after" elsewhere and worst of all one of my milking goats due to who know what and a couple of goat kids still birth - that's horrible
    In fact Always horrible.

  2. Yes always unpleasant. Four lambs from one ewe!

  3. Sorry to read about your livestock loss.

  4. If only your sheep could speak. Then you would have a much easier way of finding out about the state of their health. I hope you don't get any more nasty surprises before this year is out.

  5. Thank you. Eternal vigilance!