My ewe Lily lambed yesterday afternoon. A single lamb, which is a disappointment, and a ram, which is another. Lily had twins last year and my guess is she may have singled due to my mismanagement in not weaning and separating the lambs, allowing her body time to recover and rebuild. Sadly, there is often a lag between my learning curve and my ability to get things done alone.
Lily is one of my favorite sheep. She is purebred Clun Forest ewe, though not registerable as she is the oldest daughter of Blackberry, who is purebred but not registered. She was the first purebred Clun ewe lamb born at Fairhope Farm. Lucy and I named her Lily because at birth her fleece was white with black flecks like the throat of that flower. She will be three this spring.
Her ram lamb was a whopping 12 lbs, 4 oz., bigger at birth than the three-day-old half-siblings (and simultaneous aunt and uncle) in the jug next door.
Lily had the lamb up and dry by the time I found them after lunch. All seemed to be well but as usual I climbed into the jug to dip the lamb’s navel in iodine and weigh him. Automatically I put my hand down to strip Lily’s teats and make sure the lamb had fed.
That’s when I discovered the problem.
Lily has severe mastitis in half her udder.
I have seen mastitis in cows and Lily’s case is far worse than a little stringiness or clots. The bag on that side is hard and hot. The teat is completely clogged all the way up into the udder. I can express a very little and that comes out in tiny noodles of pus. It resembles greenish-white, cheesy toothpaste. When I feel the teat it feels as if it has a spine. I assume that the “spine” is a column of this hardened pus.
I took her temperature: it was 103° F, slightly feverish. The other half of her udder was unaffected, so far, but seemed to have little milk… I’m guessing down to poor let-down due to discomfort. Lily was still eating and drinking, however, and was responsive to her lamb. The lamb was obviously hungry, not getting much from the one good side.
I raced home to consult my Laura Lawson sheep bible. Among her other recommendations, Laura warned to dispose of any contaminated milk safely. “It contains millions of bacteria and toxins that could be a source of infection to other ewes.” Yikes. I had wiped my hands on my coveralls! In my barn full of lactating sheep, cows, and bottle babies, I suddenly felt like Typhoid Mary.
I called the vet, and they were willing to come out on a farm call, but as usual I was torn. When it comes to basic sheep care (not a surgical intervention or a lab culture) I can often find the information online and attempt to take care of it myself.
Last night I put out an S.O.S. on my sheep email list, threw all my barn clothes in the washing machine, and after getting home from an evening meeting spent a couple of hours googling for solutions on the internet. I have downloaded ewe mastitis treatment instructions from the Cornell University Sheep Farm as well as from the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic in Minnesota; happily the suggestions are congruent, they agree with my guru Laura, and wonder of wonders, I have most of the meds on hand.
Today I will be busy. Tonight we are due to get up to a foot of snow.