Wednesday, November 16, 2011

COPD in Sheep

While sheep have been used as a model for asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in humans there is very little written about the condition in sheep itself except for anecdotal evidence that sheep grazing on kelp on the Scottish Islands are less susceptible to respiratory coughing etc. Something to do with the iodine levels.

We have one lamb (possible two) and one ewe that have what I am starting to believe is COPD. When they are housed inside, especially if the ammonia levels increase or dust levels are higher than desirable, they have upper respiratory tract congestion, coarse breathing and coughing. These conditions do not really respond to antibiotic treatment but respond better to improvements in air quality.

I know that the one lamb had a very difficult time during birth, was a backwards presentation and had problems for the first few days. I am guessing that the lamb may have aspirated some fluid during birth and have some lung damage. I think that has left this animal more vulnerable to air quality issues. He spent the majority of the summer housed outside with access to airy shelters. His breathing difficulty only arrived once he was brought back into the barn.

This morning the lamb's breathing was very rough. I treated him with a wind aid treatment with potassium iodide, eucalyptus oild and pepperment oil. I then put down a heavy layer of fresh bedding. Within minutes his breathing was back to normal. He will be moved into a clean stall with better ventilation.

A second lamb that has mild respiratory problems also underwent a difficult birth.

I have a mature ewe with a similar condition: fine when housed outside but chronic breathing problems that does not respond to antibiotic treatment when housed inside. The condition improves with improved air quality.
We bought the ewe as a mature animal so I am not sure if she was the result of a difficult birth but I would not be surprised.

More than even I am convinced that animals are healthier when housed outside. While our barn structure does not allow for huge improvements in air movement (low ceiling bank barn), we are going to do what we can to move more air through the builing and minimize the time the animals are inside.

I am also convinced that difficult deliveries, especially backwards presentations predispose the lambs to chronic respiratory vulnerabilities. Unless a lamb is extremely valuable those that underwent a difficult delivery will be slated as market lambs. Ewes that have chronic lambing problems will be culled.

I would love to hear from others that think they may have seen COPD in their sheep.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Go with your gut and don't believe everything you see

We had a sick lamb the last few days and I was at a loss as to what to do to help her. Sure I could treat the symptoms but I wanted to know the cause.

This was a 5 month old market lamb. She was lethargic, obviously constipated, not urinating, uncomfortable, very slight elevation of temperature, not eating or drinking. All really serious signs. We treated her with bloat ease and when that did not work mineral oil. Even though she had just been dewormed, I went with my instinct and retreated her with a product for tapeworms. I also did a fecal test and there was nothing present.

Yesterday morning she still had not passed anything so I brought in the vet. He diagnosed a slight respiratory noise put her on LA tetracycline and vitamin supplement.

Fifteen minutes after the vet left she pooped and peed (obviously too soon to have anything to do with his treatment). She immediately started to eat and drink. And then that afternoon she started to pass huge numbers of tapeworms. She was obviously blocked with these parasites.

By evening she was bright, eating voraciously, drinking and very vocal in her protests of injustice of isolation.

If I had just gone with what I saw (ie nothing in the fecal test) or treating the symptoms, I might have a dead lamb on my hands.

Lesson for others. Tapeworms are not inoccuous. This is the second lamb in two years we have had blocked by this parasite. It is not just barberpole worms that can kill.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting better before we get bigger

I just gave a talk at the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency with the 10 lessons learned as a beginning shepherd. One of the lessons was to get better before we get bigger .... and we better practice what we preach.

Bob just did a summary of the feed costs for the lambs. Despite higher grain costs we have been able to cut our grain costs per lamb by $10 and by keeping the lambs on pasture for a month longer than last year we were able to cut our hay costs by a significant amount as well ($11 per lamb if we sold the hay on the open market). That was all accomplished by improving the quality of our pasture and our pasture rotation. Those cost savings are huge in one year for an operation as small as ours. What was also good is we were able to do this without losing anything in our average daily gain.

We still have room for improvement but sure good to see some progress in efficiency.