Thursday, 13 August 2009

Single Sheep Rejected by the Mob

On Friday 10th July we moved the sheep from the Valley Paddock to the Big Pine Paddock. Our approach is pretty standard now in that because the sheep are so good at mobbing-up we don’t bother going looking for strays. The Valley Paddock does, however, have a very dense thicket of White Cypress Pine; referred to by conservationists as an Invasive Native Species (INS) due to the prolific way in which it can regenerate in particular seasons and in response to fire.

On Monday 13th July we had some visitors and took them on a bit of a farm tour. Whilst showing them the sheep in the Big Pine Paddock we noticed a single sheep still in the Valley Paddock. This seemed most unusual given past experience. With sheep having very strong herding instincts, to the extent that they will fret on their own, we decided to move the single sheep from the Valley Paddock in with the rest of the mob. Whilst doing so we all noticed that the behaviour of this single animal was unusual: it tripped at one point, allowed me to walk right up behind it and touch its back, and when we had it in the Big Pine Paddock it seemed like it just didn’t want to be there and went over and lent against the fence and started shaking. Another observation was that it seemed to have a small amount of wool near the front of its left shoulder that had been pulled, and we assumed that a fox may have had a bit of a go at it.

In the interest of getting the animal settled as quickly as possible we went and herded the mob of sheep from where they were at the southern end of the paddock to where the single sheep now was. As the mob approached the single animal (that as little as 3 days ago was a part of the mob) none of the main mob would go within 3 metres of the single animal, with the sheep closest to the single animal standing around it in a circle and ‘baaing’ at it as if to say ‘stay well away from us’.

As luck would have it one of our visitors was our niece, Kim, who just happens to be studying Veterinary Science. She is in her 4th year of study, although she had not yet completed the sheep module which she was due to commence in the up-coming semester. We decided to catch the single sheep and see if there was anything else noticeably wrong with it. Given the earlier ‘tripping’ event Kim went through a process of checking the eyes, ears and mouth looking to see any discolouring which may indicate a neurological (nervous system) problem. All clear. It was then that we noticed on the left shoulder an abscess that had been filled with a yellow-green puss-like substance and had just burst. This was where the loose wool had appeared previously. Further inspection brought to light a similar / mirror abscess on the other shoulder. Kim drained this carefully using what we could find on hand from the medical kit we keep in the car – specifically a safety pin and some surgical scissors.

The accompanying photograph gives an insight into what the abscess looked like as part of Kim applying her surgical skills.

We left the sheep where it was and returned to the house as it was late and getting dark. Kim checked out a website used widely by Veterinarians and it seemed that the single sheep most likely had what’s commonly called ‘Cheesy Gland’. That being the case I decided it was best to return to the sheep the next day and kill it to eliminate further suffering and to protect the rest of the mob from potential further spreading of the disease. When I returned to the single sheep early on the morning of the 14th July nature had taken its own course and the animal had died overnight.

Subsequent to the above we have learned several more things. The local fellow who helped us with renovating the cottage was a shearer for 37 years and refers to the abscesses as ‘Yolk Boils’. They occur normally in sheep mobs at the frequency of roughly 1 in 1,000 and are pretty messy to have to deal with when shearing and (when not noticed) the hand-piece cuts through them. Under normal circumstances the sheep are left in with the mob and recover. Another local believes they can be a natural response to vaccinations, which makes sense given we’d vaccinated them not long before-hand. I also spoke with the local Veterinarian based out of the Lachlan Health and Pest Authority. She recommended that we closely monitor the rest of the mob and to let her know if there was any reoccurrence. So far so good! Another person we know commented that sheep tend to ‘separate’ from the mob for one of two reasons: when lambing, and when sick. This is quite natural, it seems.

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