Ioan (pronounced Yo-wan) is a purebred, registered Clun Forest ram. He was seven months old when I bought him, and was planned to be the foundation of my new, serious efforts in sheep. Clun Forests are hardy, multi-purpose sheep from the hill border between England and Wales. In keeping with my habit of naming my studs for movie stars, I called the ram lamb Ioan after the young Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, who played the lead in Horatio Hornblower, a film I loved. Being a word nerd, I also enjoy the odd alliteration in “Ioan and the ewes.”
After spending five weeks lent out to the school’s flock, honing his skills so to speak, Ioan joined my ewes November 25, 2008. (I timed events to be certain I wouldn’t have lambs until after our return from Florida.) He fell ill on Christmas Eve. His fetlocks turned underneath him; he staggered and floundered in the snow. His temperature climbed to 106.5. He was sick with fever and varying degrees of paralysis for more than a month. I poked a rectal thermometer in his bottom and gave him shots daily for weeks. Amazingly, he stayed trusting and friendly throughout.
Despite many expensive tests, I never did get a firm diagnosis of what was wrong. I could have driven him to Cornell for a work-up, but didn’t have a spare $1K. All signs, except for the high fever, pointed to meningeal worm, a parasite carried by deer that invades the spinal cord and slowly makes its way to the brain. (This would mean he was infected when I bought him, and though he was wormed in both October and November, it was too late.) The atypical high fever made my local vets doubt this possibility, but they had no other real idea. I insisted on treating him for meningeal worm, just in case, and emailed all over the East coast for suggestions. A very nice vet from Cornell, an expert in sheep, ventured that meningeal worm could have destroyed Ioan’s heat regulating system. My vets sniffed.
I stopped the high doses of antibiotics when it became apparent, after several weeks, that his fever rose and fell quite independently of the shots. Clearly this was not a bacterial problem. I finally stopped taking his temperature, too. It was too discouraging.
Today Ioan has mostly recovered. The meningeal worm (or whatever) has left him with a permanent weakness in his hind legs. He can walk, even run, as long as he doesn’t try to turn suddenly, when he’ll fall. His prospects as a flock sire, however, are clouded. Will he physically be able to cover the ewes? Will the fever have damaged his potency?
If I were tougher — and richer — I would write it off as bad luck, send Ioan to the butcher next fall, and start over with a new purebred ram. But I’m not tough and I’m not rich. He’s beautiful and has a very sweet personality. I’ll probably dither on this decision for another six months.
I’m hoping I’ll have a crop of his babies this spring 2009, regardless.