As if I didn’t have enough worries, it appears my sheep have lice. Ugh!
These crawling, biting insect parasites, pictured and described here, cause sheep to rub and scratch themselves on every available surface. The more athletic ewes reach around and chew their backs with their teeth for relief from the maddening itch. Naturally, all this not only indicates sad discomfort for the poor sheep, but destroys the wool. An affected ewe looks as if she is covered in long dreadlocks. In biting at these pests, she may also pull a bald spot across the top of her flanks.
Three of the worst cases seem to be Blackberry and her daughters Cranberry (born 2012, seen above) and Mulberry (born 2011). This would be significant save for the fact that Blackberry and four of her daughters make up exactly half my flock. The other two bad cases are the two unrelated ewe lambs I brought in this fall, Bess and Georgie.
Even in sheep, lice carry such a stigma that it is always tempting to pin blame. Surely it was the purchased lambs that brought in this scourge! However it seems that last year’s mild winter and long drought saw a large outbreak of sheep lice across New England. I find myself wondering and worrying if the sheep I sold carried lice to other farms.
Sheep lice are species-specific. They may, in very crowded conditions, transfer to goats, but this is rare. They will not affect cattle, horses, birds, or people. Their affections are entirely ovine.
A sheep friend recommended Ultra-Boss pour-on insecticide, which I dutifully ordered and has finally arrived. My ewes will be shorn next week and I will treat them then. The meds are guaranteed not to be teratogenic (harmful to developing fetuses) but I must say, after reading all the cautions to wear gloves, etc., I’m not excited at the prospect.
However I do want my poor girls to have relief. It is said that a very lousy sheep may carry 100,000 biting critters. Certainly the ewes are itchy and unhappy.