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Sheep are so fun to have around. They’re cute and fluffy and full of curiosity. However, there are a few things that turn people away from sheep. The old saying “Sheep are born looking for a way to die” being the main one that comes to mind. Truth is that many times sheep are just fine.
What people don’t see is the slight change in behavior when a sheep is getting sick. They seem fine and then they are dead. This is because sheep are a very vulnerable prey animal. If you look sick, as a sheep, you are a coyote’s lunch. Thus, they hide sickness very well. With that in mind here’s a few things to look for.
As you walk through your herd, look at those on the outside, not right next to you. A sheep that is not feeling well, will have their head down, ears drooping, and eyes dull. There is a catch all phrase for this “Ain’t Doing Right” or ADR for short. Watch from a distance to see how they act. As you approach, they will probably perk up and run off pretending to be ok. As soon as they are a ‘safe’ distance away, they will resume the ADR behavior. These sheep need to be separated and further evaluated for illness signs, such as fever, parasite load, pneumonia.
Lameness is much easier to evaluate. Sheep can’t hide a lame/sore limb very well, though some can still run quite fast on three legs. Once you have caught the lame sheep there are a few common reasons to evaluate for: blocked long toes, blocked pore, and foot rot. The following is how to differentiate and treat each.
Long toes are pretty easy to pick out as you look at the sheep in the pen. The hoof will be overgrown and the sheep not walking upright anymore. When they are long enough to cause the sheep to be lame, the hoof will be rolled under far enough to poke/rub the other toe or look like a pointy nail sticking out the front of the hoof.
You will need to catch such a sheep and trim their hooves. If the hoof is really overgrown, it may take a couple trims, days in a row to properly trim the hoof, without crippling the sheep.
If the toes look ok, the next to check is for a blocked pore. For a blocked pore, simply pick up the lame leg and look at the front of the hoof. Just above the hoof in the hair, you will see a pore. Occasionally these become blocked, kind of like a blocked tear duct. Simply pick the crud away and the pore should open and the sheep feel better quickly.
If the toes and pore looks fine, the next thing to check for is Foot rot. Again, pick up the lame foot and look at the underside. A foot with foot rot will have an awful odor, maybe slight green tint, be squishy and oozing/bleeding.
To treat foot rot, clean the debris foot out and soak in an Epson salt foot soak, if possible, for 5-10 minutes. This can be difficult at first, as sheep don’t tend to like to stand, and you must have a chute or panels to hold them still with. Then you will want to cover the hoof in a foot rot solution, but NOT Kopertox. Kopertox is a popular treatment but can cause copper toxicity in sheep. Look for something with zinc sulphate or formalin. Allow it to dry before returning to the pen. Sever cases will require antibiotics, such as LA 200.
If a good portion of the herd is affected, you may need to set up a foot bath and run the entire herd through every week until they clear up.
Learning to recognize what is abnormal for your herd is key to keeping your sheep healthy. The more time you spend with your sheep the more you will be able to quickly recognize problem before it becomes serious.
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