Stretched Too Thin

March 30, 2015

I am aware I am stretched too thin.

1. Finally got meds for Lucy’s little dog after multiple mix-ups with the new small animal vet, and two fruitless trips into town to pick them up.

2. My ewe Pixie is worse again. On her feet, swaying, but won’t eat or drink. Still no idea what is wrong. It “can’t” be any of the options, yet it must be something. I have tried almost everything I can think of.

3. Dorrie’s foster calf, Olaf (yes, I know I haven’t told you about him yet, but the list of things I haven’t had time to write about is long) has terrible scours, almost clear. Diarrhea will swiftly kill a calf. Last night I was at the barn giving him electrolytes at 10 PM.

4. My cow, Moxie, is due today and she appears to be in labor, bang on schedule. I am praying milk fever or any other complication does not enter the picture. I will leave work at lunch to race down to check her (and give Pixie and Olaf more electrolytes).

5. It’s snowing again.

Meanwhile, for a rest, I’m off to teach my 8th graders about the Nazi invasion of Russia.

-10° Again This Morning

March 29, 2015


This photo was shot by my neighbor, Sue, yesterday. It is a color photograph — beautiful for November but unspeakably dreary for spring. It was 14° and snowed all day, bringing six fresh inches. Last night it cleared and the temperature plunged to ten below zero.

We’re due for a warming trend. The week should see classic maple-sugaring weather: cold nights and warmer days. I am desperately looking forward to it. But at the moment I am tired. I have so much work and though I don’t stop working, I don’t seem to make much progress anywhere.

My ewe Pixie is no longer at death’s door — after the Bo-Se shot, she’s on her feet, eating tentatively and swaying like a drunken sailor — but I still have no idea what was/is wrong with her and which of the many treatments I have tried have or haven’t helped her. Another disease option: listeriosis? She fits many of the symptoms but if it were listeriosis she should be dead by now. Experienced shepherds (one married to a veterinarian) are baffled.”Whatever is going on with her is not a common problem or typical in any way; I’d be willing to bet you could spend $500 in vet bills and probably still not know for sure what is going on.” It has been said that I’ve done everything I can do. I can’t accept that. After dinner every night I keep searching on the internet.

Meanwhile it is hard to remain patient with the minor daily snafus. Two weeks ago, upgrading my operating system on the computer disabled iPhoto. After wasting hours in search of a fix — there are printed howls of rage all over the internet — I finally called Apple. They apologized and walked me through the chore. I should have paid more attention when the technician said, with a nervous laugh, “Don’t worry if you don’t like this new version of iPhoto. We’re about to replace it altogether.” Gee, I definitely don’t like it. Now every time I upload a photograph, iPhoto crashes the browser. I can upload a photo if I’m willing to toggle between browsers and restart after every crash.

But at the same time, WordPress (on which this blog is written) has changed its posting experience. Some creative genius decided to “upgrade” the design to something visually arty — believe it or not, when one saves a post, bubbles appear, and the words “beep! bop! boop!” followed by “Lookin’ good!” However the new editing platform is nearly useless to anyone actually hoping to write. For a while, users were able to manually return to the classic editor. Recently, that option was removed. Again, there are howls of rage. Perhaps WordPress will pay attention, perhaps not. However between the two issues it now takes me two to three times as long to write a blog post.

Time is something I don’t have right now.

Another Hasty Note

March 27, 2015

So much going on but no time. I will update this weekend.

The issue with Pixie, my downed ewe, grows more mysterious. The veterinary assistant told me that her fecal test was almost clear, that she did not need worming.

If Pixie doesn’t have toxemia, doesn’t have milk fever, doesn’t have anemia from a heavy worm load — why is she unable to walk? She is at a good weight. She looks great — except for the teeny-tiny, very small problem that she cannot move and will barely eat.

My online sheep group is stumped. A Maine vet contacted by a friend suggested that perhaps Pixie might have a selenium deficiency. Our soils are very low in selenium, but my ewes have constant access to a mineral supplement. Still, in the interests of doing everything, I bought a dose from my vet of BoSe, vitamin E and selenium. I gave her the shot last night sub-Q.

Poor girl. Pixie was already a nervous sheep and now every time I come near her I jab her with needles. I am giving her Vitamin B shots daily to stimulate her appetite. Yesterday morning I drenched her with lamb milk replacer to get some nutrition into her. Half an hour later she nibbled at some grain (the day before she had lain with her head stretched out in the feed dish, eyes dull, with no interest). Last night I drenched her with some fresh warm milk straight from the cow. Again, afterward, she ate a few bites of grain and even lipped tiredly at her hay. I know force-feeding milk to an adult has some risks in terms of upsetting her digestion, but I have been very concerned that Pixie is not taking in food or water.

Absolutely nothing about this health crisis is clear and I’m flying blind.

Quick Note

March 26, 2015

I have my hands full. Dorrie is now fine, update to come.

Lucy’s little dog Toby went to the small animal vet over the weekend while I was on the road. I used the opportunity to have his annual vaccinations and tests done. I picked him up Sunday afternoon. I was on the road again eleven hours Monday. The vet called my husband and left a message Tuesday evening. While testing for heartworm, they discovered he is suffering from anaplasmosis, a tick-borne illness. Yesterday I set aside an hour to run into town for the meds but the vet was busy, the meds were not ready, and they would “call me right back” to let me know when I could get them. No call.

Meanwhile as of Tuesday night my young ewe Pixie is down, mysteriously. She is too weak to walk and will not eat. I have treated her for ketosis (called toxemia in sheep). I even gave her calcium injections sub-Q for milk fever, though she is not pregnant — calcium won’t hurt her and it was suggested by my sheep group.

I now think Pixie is suffering from barber pole worms, a blood-sucking parasite that burrows into the stomach lining and causes anemia and will eventually kill the ewe. I will drop off a sample at the large animal vet 45 minutes away this afternoon, to be sure, but in the meantime I’m looking everywhere on the internet for a treatment plan. I can’t find one. (I will tell you, if I am able to save Pixie I will write up the results so other people won’t feel as helpless as I do now.)

As she won’t eat, my current plan is to drench her (livestock speak for “force down her throat”) with warm electrolytes (Bounce Back brand — cheap packets of powder that I always keep on hand) and lamb milk replacer for nutrition. For the anemia I will need either oral or injectable iron. I will give her daily shots of vitamin B.

I’m not sure what will kill the barber pole worms. Pixie was wormed with the rest of the flock last week and obviously Ivomec did not touch them.

Meanwhile I am scheduled to pick up a bull calf this afternoon after work to help keep Dorrie milked out.


-10° F This Morning

March 24, 2015

… but I have survived the past five days of insane schedule, on the road for many hours and milking after 10 PM. Now to find a more sustainable rhythm and perhaps some warmer temperatures.

Brain Freeze

March 20, 2015

This has been a tough week. The next few days will be tougher. Ten hours in the car tomorrow to go to a funeral in Connecticut. Sunday we have staff meetings and boarding students return. Ten hours in the car Monday to take Lucy back to school in New Hampshire. Both days I will be milking before dawn and when I get home late at night.

Last night DH’s flight home was canceled and all previously made plans had to change. This morning at 5:45 I took Lucy to town to catch a ride to a ski race. The shearer comes at 9:30 and I’m about to go do chores and set up the barn, find the hoof shears, the wormer, the drench syringe. I have to plan lessons for my students to do in my absence on Monday. I am waiting to hear from the lab in Oregon about Dorrie’s mastitis and best treatment options. I have to pack funeral clothes for myself and for DH. I have to drop the dog at the vet to board for the weekend.

So much to organize and accomplish — for some reason my thinking seems slow, almost gelid. Maybe I’m just tired. It’s hard to even make the list. I seem to have a bit of brain freeze.

Strawberry Milk

March 19, 2015

My cow Katika was, and now her daughter, Dorrie, is, prone to terrible edema at calving. The udder inflates until it is nearly bursting. When there is no more room in the udder, the swelling backs up along the milk vein to create a swollen pouch under the belly. The first time I saw the latter phenomenon years ago I thought my cow must have a hernia. No — just temporary edema. The intense swelling goes away after about ten days, but it is quite painful while it lasts.

The initial onset of edema causes what is known as “strawberry milk.” Capillaries inside the udder burst under the pressure and the milk is tinged with blood. Pails of first milk from Katika and now Dorrie were/are a pale terracotta in color.

It’s a good idea to save some of this first milk. Colostrum is rich with nutrients and can be a pick-me-up for any ailing newborn mammal. Many farmers freeze it to keep it on hand. This year I saved colostrum from Dorrie’s second day as I struggled to get her past ketosis and mastitis. I wasn’t sure if I’d need to feed Elsa on a bottle.


By the time Lucy arrived home from the Junior Nationals, the yellow cream had risen and the rest of the milk was mauve, with a purple line of floating blood cells and more bloody sludge at the bottom. When the jar was lifted, purplish tatters of clotted blood eddied through in a swirling pattern.

“What is this?” Lucy asked fearfully.

She was relieved to hear that strawberry milk was not on our menu.

Small Pleasures

March 18, 2015


Yesterday we had blowing snow and sleet all day. The wind was so vicious that foot-deep drifts flowed over the driveway.

When the weather is discouraging it’s always satisfying at the end of the day to bring in the cattle and see them shake off the ice and settle, happy and sighing, into the clean dry bedding hay.


Even the boys who occasionally annoy or even alarm me seem endearing in the sweet peace of the evening barn when the wind is howling outside.


“What’s for Supper?”

March 17, 2015


To get closer to the hay rack, a ewe lamb has jumped on the back of a ewe at the feeder, and is looking at me brightly with a question in her eye.

My own question is: where are the rest of the lambs? I still have two older ewes that have not given birth, and at least two yearlings that I saw bred, and ditto. Yet I haven’t had any new lambs since February 25 — tomorrow it will be three weeks.  Ewes come into heat every 16 or 17 days, so even if Edelweiss or Georgie, my older ewes, were somehow not bred in the same early round as everyone else, they should have been bred in the next and should have lambed by now. As always, I am hoping against hope that there is nothing dire at work.

Friday my shearer Roger comes, and perhaps once their heavy coats are off more will be clear.

*   *   *

Five days ago a young colleague died unexpectedly. Yesterday we learned that a long-time friend of our youth, the husband of my dear friend Julia who died of cancer two years ago, had lost his own fight with cancer.

This has been a winter for grieving and funerals. The sky is grey and it is sleeting dismally, a bleak scene that reflects my current bleak mood.

Lucy at the Junior Nationals

March 16, 2015


My baby girl is flying home today. She has been skiing for the Mid-Atlantic nordic team in the Junior Nationals at Donner Summit in Truckee, California.

Her races were disappointing to her. She (and many other eastern competitors) were badly affected by the altitude. DH had cleverly pre-planned a business trip to overlap with the competition for a few days, so he was there. He passed on to me a report from a coach from Stratton Mountain School, a Vermont ski academy, which told of their girls fainting on the course. There were a handful of DNFs — skiers who Did Not Finish — in each race. Lucy finished all her races but the altitude would cut her engine halfway through. It wasn’t until the last day that she felt somewhat more like herself.

Another complication was the weather. Truckee is legendary for its snowfall. (You will remember the Donner Party, snowed in for months and having to resort to cannibalism to survive.) This year, however, instead of foot upon foot of snow, they’ve had scant inches. Snow was trucked in and rolled on a small track. The temperature soared into the high 60s. Skiers had to be worried about overheating. By the last day, both boys and girls had removed their snug uniform tops, the girls wearing their race bibs over their sports bras.


So, Lucy did not earn the exciting results she had hoped for. Still, she learned valuable information about how her body responds to altitude (it needs a week to acclimatize) and she had a wonderful time with a great, healthy group of high school friends. She also beat her secret rival in her last race.

Now I will be happy to have her home.