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Diagnosis steps - why would a sheep go off his feed?

 
R Ranson
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This is no longer an URGENT request!
but also a resource for others who have simular problems in the future.



Please help me brainstorm some things to look for before I contact the vet. Vets are very expensive, so it's important for a farmer to be as self sufficient as possible. Can you help me walk through the steps to determine what's wrong with poor old young Larry?

Larry is almost two years old. He came to us as a bummer - which is to say his mum didn't want him. Poor guy. He was hand raised but didn't start his life off quite as well as could be. The farmer that had him for the first month or two didn't feed him colostrum. Instead, she fed him baby formula - as in human baby formula. We finished him off on goat milk and he's been quite healthy until last night. Larry is suppose to be a weather, and has his balls and tail removed by his original owner... only Larry either had one ball too many, or more likely the farmer (who I have rather low opinion of for reasons that don't get discussed outside the cider press, but basically I found out later that she was responsible for the death of some of my animals) couldn't count to 2. He seems to be growing a new ram sack to accommodate his massive ball. I had the shearer check out the ball before and he confirms it's a ball and not a tumor... it's just really large!

The other background you need to know is that it rained yesterday. This is our rainy season, but yesterday's rain was excessive. We usually get 1 to 5 mm of rain a day, yesterday we got over 60mm in 24 hours. Consequently there is more mud than normal.

The problem with Larry...

Last night at dinner Larry didn't come to eat his hay. This morning, he eats neither hay nor grain.

1. first step to diagnosing this trouble - suspect the feed. It's not a new bale of hay, nor is it a new bag of grain. The other sheep are as eager as normal to eat it. Larry won't even sniff the hay. He just stands in one place looking at me.

2. Look for bloat. Is he extra wide, especially on his left side? He seems as thin as normal. No obvious signs of bloat.

3. Physical examination (this is where I get muddy). Look for physical problems like feet, teeth, and other possible injuries. Pay special attention to signs of tetanus (even though his shots should be up to date, as he had his booster 10 months ago). Also smell his breath for signs of sourgut or bloat. Look for signs of anemia under eyelids and gums. Look for signs of runny or unusual poop.

This is what I'll do as soon as it gets light out. If he fights me enough, then I'll probably give him a wormer. If he's not strong enough to fight then I might give him a B12 vitamin shot... but I hate giving shots.

So what's the next step to diagnosing Larry?

Why would a sheep go off his feed?


As I'm writing this, he left his shelter and is drinking water. He's putting his weight evenly on all four feet. I looked at his feet a week ago, and they were in no need of a trim.
 
R Ranson
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Larry 'says' it's something wrong with his mouth/jaw area. He won't let me have a good look inside. He's a very strong boy when he wants to be. He's showing discomfort/pain when I try to look in his mouth. I took him to some fresh grass, he sniffed it, then said he wanted to go home.

Don't know what to do next. I was hoping for a fecal sample so I could drop it off at the vet on the way to town, but no luck.

Larry's still drinking water and standing near the hay, but not eating it.

Got to go to town for a few hours... as he's still drinking, I think I'll go and consult the vet by phone when they open.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Is he drinking normal amounts of water or excessive amounts?
 
R Ranson
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Karen Layne wrote:Is he drinking normal amounts of water or excessive amounts?


More than normal, not sure I would call it excessive.
 
R Ranson
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His urine seems a normal amount and colour. No bad smell.

Edit: yes, I sniffed Larry's pee. I'm not proud. It's an important diagnostic technique, but it only works if you know what healthy sheep pee smells like.
 
R Ranson
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Phoned the vet, awaiting reply.

Did a McMasters test on some poop. This didn't do much good as I don't know how to interpret the results. This would be a very useful tool if I can figure out how to use it. Looks like some strongylid eggs for sure, and maybe a very few coccidia eggs... or it might have been debris. It's really difficult to tell. Microscopes hurt my eyes.
 
R Ranson
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Vet phoned back. Agrees it might be an injury to the mouth. If still poorly tomorrow after breakfast, call the vet and can probably see him tomorrow afternoon.

There goes my savings.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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I am by no means qualified to advise, only well read. I ask about water intake because it could indicate intestinal distress (blockage, parasites, fecal ingestion) or even issues with kidney function. You mentioned the amount of rain, pneumonia is a common occurrence of sheep. If that's the case, an antibiotic will be necessary. If it is a mouth issue usually an antibiotic is not required. Time is key there.
Sorry I took so long to get back to you, I had typed a long reply only to have it all disappear. Slow typing on cell phone. Best of luck. Keep us posted. God bless Larry.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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I see you have posted twice while I have been slow typing. Good to hear the vet has been called. I wonder if Larry would try watered down, pureed food (thinking fruits and veggies).
 
R Ranson
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Thanks for the reply and kind thoughts.

This is Larry as a little lamb.



Most people think he's stupid because he slowly plods along with his ears out like wings, but once you get to know him, you discover how thoughtful he is. He's a deep thinker. He thinks, the humans always bring the food over here, so I'll wait where the food goes instead of rushing the gate with everyone else. At least, that's his usual behaviour.


I'm beginning to suspect there's something in the flock that shouldn't be. Two other sheep have the runs, with spots of blood in them. This makes me think of cocci. One other ewe is starting to prolapse her lamb hole when she is laying down, but it sucks right back in when she stands up. She's very pregnant though, so fingers crossed she will simply heal up when the lamb pops out. I won't be breeding them next year.

The only wormer I have on hand, I'm not suppose to give to pregnant ewes, so I'm going to ask the vet tomorrow for a different wormer... I might just do the whole flock. I don't normally mas administer medication like this, but there are just too many little things going wrong with them, I want to make certain it's not parasites before I panic.

Pneumonia is something I need to learn about... well, I have personal experience, but don't know how it presents in sheep.

Water downed food is a good idea. I'll try a few different things to see if I can coax him to eat.

Edit to add: Larry's poo is dryer than normal.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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What a cute picture! He looks so sweet.
Wow, you have problems-a-plenty. Cocci also needs antibiotic, if you're correct. Too many variables and possibilities and animals involved. Vet definitely a must. Some are willing to work with you on the payments. Ask.
 
R Ranson
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Cocci is pretty hard core. The cocci meds here are tightly controlled and not every vet carries them. Sometimes we have to treat off label... which has risks. With cocci I like to get a confirmation from the vet with a fecal count before I medicate.

The vet I have now is great and his prices are far more reasonable than anyone else. It's still going to eat up about half my savings, but that's why I have savings... so I can take critters to the vet.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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They're like your children, I know. You'd do almost anything. I have!
I hope Larry isn't in distress and can rest comfortable tonight. Good luck.
 
R Ranson
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Larry showed mild interest in grain this morning, and he even sniffed some hay. On the whole, still down and miserable.

Going to take him to the Vet this afternoon. Even if Larry is on the mend, I still need to know what was wrong and what diagnostic steps to take when it happens again.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Come on Larry! I'll take "mild interest" for now. Did you try any purée? Let us know what the vet says. May be just gas/bloating.
 
R Ranson
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We get him ready for the vet visit. Put him off to one side with a fresh patch of grass. The same patch of grass he refused to look at yesterday, he's munching happily on today. Still refuses hay and won't let me look in his mouth. Going to take him to the vet anyway, maybe he can have a look in the mouth. Also worried about my prolapse ewe. The prolapse isn't popping back in when she stands anymore. Going to ask the vet about that too.

Edit to add: I tried the puree food. Larry took two bites then walked away. Two bites are bitter than none. The ewes loved it!
 
Travis Johnson
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It sounds like E Coli to me, but definitely a bacteria if you have scours (diarrhea) in your flock.

Do you vaccinate for it?

Too late either way if you don't, but it is far easier to vaccinate then to treat. For any sheep with the scours (diarrhea...animals do not have diarrhea, they have scours) I give them pepto bismol. 9 out of 10 times it actually works. Since sheep are the same weight as humans from an 8 pound infant to a 180 pound adult, just go by the dosing charts on the bottle. I give mine a dose every 3 hours for 24 hours.

If I am going for the full monty, I also hit them up with a one time shot of AD and E.

A shot of B-12 every 6 hours helps to convert anything they do consume more readily into energy.

As antibiotic, you can use Duramyacin, and it is approved in sheep and is listed as a cure for E Coli, but I have found Spectramyacin to work much better...you will commonly find it in antic-scours for Swine.

After that you want to put the electrolytes right to any sheep with scours because it dyhydrates them. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH, without a rigorous ration of electrolytes, survival rates for E coli are very slow (see note on need for vaccinations). Go by dosing charts .

Of course I did not check the animal so I have no idea for sure if this is the problem but sniffing pee is not so as important as sniffing poo. Yes I am serious. Lambs often get scours from drinking too much milk from a bottle/mother, but that takes a different approach then e coli bacteria...which by the way is HIGHLY contagious. If the poo is runny but relatively normal smelling...yep, too much milk intake, but if it is foul smelling it is most often bacterial in nature.

Also, a sheep is 100 degrees, just like we are 98.8 degrees. A "fever" for a sheep is 103 plus with a rectal thermometer. Checking any ruminants ears for "heat" is farm diagnostic every farmer tries first. They will feel warm.

The mouth issues you explained may or may not be a problem. When a sheep is stressed it clamps its mouth shut. Grinding of the teeth is another sign, and is a reason to give the sheep injectable aspirin...Banomine. If its mouth is cold it is most likely suffering from hypothermia because it is not converting food into energy. A sheep's furnace is its four stomachs and it needs food to burn or it goes hypothermic. It is very much a death spiral...they clamp their mouths shut because they don't feel good, they start to get internally cold, they lack "rooting" or put another way, want to eat anymore, and soon their bodies start going into shock!

One more generalization about sheep health: a sheep has no natural defenses, and so if it shows signs of lameness or sickness it knows a predator will pick them out. THE LAST THING A SHEEP DOES IS LOOK SICK...when it does, IT IS VERY, VERY, VERY sick. Fortunately your sheep is not a "downer" because all sheep farmers and Vets will tell you the same mantra. "A downed sheep is a dead sheep".

These are all honest answers I am giving you. I buried three lambs today; 1 loss from E Coli. Watch your sheep carefully; I gave the lamb the full monty and actually told my wife that I had good feelings about her, but woke up the next morning to find her dead! Never be too cautious with bacterial infections!



 
Travis Johnson
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Do you vaccinate with CD and T?
 
Kris schulenburg
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Hope your Larry is ok. On the potential prolapse, I had one that looked like she would prolapse before she lambed but was fine after she gave birth to triplets. Having a prolapse harness on had may give you peace of mind. Good luck!
 
Chadwick Holmes
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I have a suggestion on cocci meds if you want to pm me,

Could it be a simple as getting rammed or falling on his chin?
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Travis, Kris, Chadwick,
Thank you for your input/support. Larry and R Ranson need help and prayers. It's hard and scary to take care of a sick animal.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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I also keep a dark beer on hand for rumen issues, like Guinness or the like, just let it go flat first. But it can help jump start a down rumen.
 
R Ranson
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Chadwick Holmes wrote:I also keep a dark beer on hand for rumen issues, like Guinness or the like, just let it go flat first. But it can help jump start a down rumen.


Funny you should mention this. We stopped by the brewery on the way home from the vet. I was hoping to use Larry to charm them out of some spent grain, but it was too busy. I'm going to try again on a quiet day... maybe I'll take my goat, she's cuter.

Vets diagnosis: Larry has mild pneumonia. Slight crackle in his lung and a very slight fever. We caught it early! Course of antibiotic injections and wormer. Larry is a bit underweight, so he - and everyone else - gets more grain. Everyone gets wormer meds. If there are still issues, then I'll get a proper fecal worm count to see if there is something stronger bothering the flock, like cocci.

Prolapse ewe should be fine as she's only a day or so away from popping out a lamb, but he gave me some ideas what to look for and when to worry about her. I'm going to order some paddle things for future prolapses, but in this instance, it will probably arrive too late. I don't suppose anyone knows a search phrase I could use to find this paddle thingy on amazon.ca? I can get it from the wool co-op, but the local branch is a bit...um... hmmm...

I also want to invest in a stethoscope and thermometer, as this would give me more information to work from when doing my own diagnosis.

The best thing was the vet walked me through the diagnosis, so now I can know more when to call the vet and when to wait and see.

The vet bill only took out a quarter of my savings. This is far less than I was expecting. But still... now it means that my computer might die before I have enough money for a new one... but I would rather Larry be healthy even if it means a few months without computer.


One thing I feel proud of is that when a sheep is sick enough that I take it to the vet, the vet always comments on how early I caught the symptoms. For example, about a year ago, I took a ewe in because her lamb bit her udder and it was a bit swollen and red, even a few days after the bite happened. So I took her in, and the vet was impressed how early I spotted the infection. Most of the time, people wait until the udder is blue before seeking treatment. By then it's usually too late to save the sheep.

I spend a lot of time with my sheep, even checking on them in the middle of the night if my insomnia get's too bad (which is always). Any little change and I need to know why. Only had one sheep not return home from the vet and that was because of a injury, not illness. Even managed to bring a few of my friend's sheep back from the brink - no walking, no eating.


I'm a bit upset that things got so bad I need to use drugs. In the next farm, a proper barn is a must. Also, I want a set up where I can try the Pat Coleby method of free choice minerals as I feel this will have a huge impact on reducing parasites without having to use drugs. Also looking forward to having more land and the ability to rotate pasture more often. Seeking a future where the vet is a stranger and the sheep are forever healthy through diet and environment.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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I think you handled this amazingly well. Great job! Larry is lucky to have someone who analyzes situations as thoroughly as you. Hopefully, you'll sleep well tonight without needing to " count sheep".
 
Travis Johnson
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I think you did well too. There is no shame in using vets, medicines and vaccines, even by national organic standard rules a farmer is required to use them in order to save the life of the animal.

As for vet bills and whatnot, there are two major divisions when it comes to that with sheep. The New Zealand style where during lambing season the sheep farmers take off on vacation. Their theory is this; if you do not interfere with lambing, you will have a very resilient flock that can lamb on their own without assistance. Then there is the hands on type farming method where you try and save every sheep. Myself, out of my own morality, and the morality derived from the bible where it says to take care of your livestock, I feel it is best to try and save each sheep in your care to the best of your ability. Do I lose some; of course, and I don't always call the vet because their costs often exceed the value of the sheep you are trying to save, but I read, ask questions and do an amazing amount of my own vet tricks. I have to, it is a part of farming. Still there is satisfaction in that.

As for the barn and acreage, I can agree with that. I have very few issues with worms only because I rotational graze and have a very low density rate. Here we can graze 10 sheep to the acre, but mine get 2 acres per sheep which accounts for the low worm infestations. BTW; have you looked into the eyelid test, where you use the pale color range of their eyes to determine worm severity. It is a fast, cheap and accurate way to make determinations without costly fecal matter testing!

As for the barn, despite having lambs born at -6 degrees, because they could emerge from their mother, fall into hay that is out of the snow and wind, our mortality went from 20 lost lambs to the elements last year, to only one this year due to exposure, Even then it was an anomaly because there was a gap under the gate and the lamb slipped out and could not find his mother, dying just on the other side of the gate in the wind and snow. My newest barn has already paid for itself.

You sound like a very prudent Sheppard and I wish you luck in getting your dream farm.
 
R Ranson
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Took a bit more out of my savings to have the sheerer come 'round and give the sheep their wormer shots. I think this was worth while because I suck and giving shots, and because he did a full health check on my flock.

Two of the girls need to be on hourly lamb checks. The prolapse looks very good for an inside out lamb hole. It should heal up well after the lambing... which is very, very soon!

The only thing I could be doing differently is giving more grain to the flock... the sheep like that.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Good outcome! Your pocket will always get lighter, but at least that's the worst of it!!
 
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