Friday, April 17, 2009

frothy bloat

When you become a shepherd, you become acquainted with all sorts of sheep-specific terms to describe various illnesses. These terms are quite colorful and evocative.

Take "scours" for instance, which is the shepherding term for diarrhea. Quite apt, considering how a bout of that malady leaves you feeling. Or "scald", a form of sheepy athletes foot. Again, really makes you think that we just haven't been creative enough in naming our own afflictions.

For the last two days, we have been dealing with a terrible case of frothy bloat. Luckily for us, there is no human equivalent. Unluckily for the sheep who contracts it, it is often fatal. My LSH found her on her side and in distress early yesterday morning. Despite our best efforts throughout yesterday and today, to break up the foamy accumulation of gas in her rumen and get her digestive tract started up again, we were unsuccessful. We thought she had turned the corner last night but she steadily weakened and died earlier today.

Did I mention that farming really stinks sometimes?

We suspect the cause of her rumen upset was the heavy frost we had yesterday morning on the lush new clover just coming in. The ingestion of that seemingly-innocuous combination is apparently enough to kill a sheep. Now we know, although prevention may be tough.

All of our research has led us to a more troubling realization: the mix of forage in our pasture is probably too rich. Serious signs -- reduced fertility in our sheep, two cases of bloat -- are pointing to the pasture mix we bought from the local feedmill as the culprit. Our suspicions were bolstered by our neighbor, who told us she had a horse founder (a horsey gastrointestinal upset, again caused by overly-rich feed) on the same mix. If true, that means a whole mess of work to balance what we have with less rich grasses.

But at this point, I will do just about anything to avoid a repeat of the past 36 hours, even if it means pulling the damn plow myself.


  1. Oh no...what a terrible news! I am so sorry to hear that. here I was feeling terrible that our grass might not be premium enough. I dont understand why would rich grass cause all these problems...

  2. So sorry to hear that. We had a case of that long ago.
    In Spring, best to let them fill up on some hay before turning them out on lush growth.
    There is a product at Jeffers, I believe, that is for bloat.
    Might be something to invest in.