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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hell hath no fury like...

You thought I was going to say, "a woman scorned."  While certainly true, I had a llama feeling a bit scorned yesterday and there was some fury involved that came a close second.  The picture above includes the one year old (white) and the two year old (white and brown).  The "scorned" llama is not pictured here.

Periodically (about every 3-4 weeks) we have to worm our sheep (I'll get to the scorned llama later). Wet weather is a fertile breeding ground for intestinal parasites that can have devastating affects on sheep.  They'll look fine in the morning and you can go out in the afternoon and find one or more dead or dying.  These parasites infect their guts and, at the risk of being a bit gory, suck the blood through their intestinal walls.  That can leave the sheep anemic to the point that they collapse and die.  In order to prevent this we take certain measures to reduce the impact of the parasites.

In a perfect world we would have about a dozen smaller paddocks to graze the livestock in.  By resting the paddocks after grazing, the parasite load is reduced.  It's further reduced by sunshine and a lot less rain than we had in June.  But the weather is something we can't control.

Lacking enough fenced paddocks with access to water our livestock end up grazing the same areas for too long. The parasites they consume lay eggs which they pass out in their manure.  Those parasites hatch, climb up blades of grass and are consumed by the livestock.  The cycle continues.

Since we don't have enough paddocks that means our sheep are getting reinfected by parasites.  In order to control these we have to treat them to kill they parasites in their system.  That can be accompished using garlic and diatemaceous earth for lighter parasite loads.  We much prefer that approach since it doesn't rely upon chemical wormers.  Unfortunately, we're just not there yet from a fencing standpoint.  As a result, we use a chemical wormer.  It's a purple liquid that gets "drenched," or poured down their throats.  I use a little device that looks like an oversized syringe that has a metal tube that gets inserted between the teeth and gums of the sheep.  The syringe holds 4-5 doses which are measured by the weight of the animal being treated. 

I generally procrastinate the worming event since I'm pretty worn out (not to mention cranky) by the time we're done.  It requires rounding up the 50 or so ewes and lambs and getting them herded into a single stall.  That's sometimes an adventure in itself since they don't all want to squeeze into that small stall  If I were a "smart farmer" (see my post about the frickn' cow) I'd have a nice chute system with a head gate to handle the animals.  Since that takes money for one of those set ups we make do with what we have and that means putting them into a stall.  Having them crammed in there actually makes it a bit easier to manage them since they can't run away.  One of the boys grabs a sheep and brings it over by the gate where we check their eyes for anemia. 

There's a particular parasite called Humuncous which causes anemia.  We have a neat little laminated card that has pictures of five sheep eyes with various shades of pink ranging from almost red down to white.  We assign a score based upon the color of the sheep's eyes.  A 1 is the best and a 5 means you're lucky they're still alive for you to treat them.  We had a lot of 4's and 5's yesterday but we weren't too surprised.  We hadn't treated them in over four weeks and the rainy weather means a higher than average amount of parasites lurking in the pastures to be consumed by the sheep.

We proceeded to check all 50 ewes/lambs and treated probably 60% of them.  With proper pature management we could probably reduce that level to below 25%.  What's really amazing is that we have a very small number of sheep that we never need to treat.  They are naturally parasite resistant which is a desirable genetic trait that can be passed on to subsequent generations.

Those that get treated can still have some serious side affects.  One of them is their blood chemistry getting very alkalyn as the parasites die off.  We learned a neat little trick a couple of years ago that we believe brought one of our best rams back from the brink of death.  We treated him with raw apple cider vinegar.  That simple ingrediate helped to neutralize his ph sufficiently that he actually recovered fairly quickly.

Anyway, after we completed treating the ewes and lambs it was on to the llamas.  Now we get to the "hell hath no fury"part.  But, first, a little explanation about the difference between sheep parasites and llama parasites, at least as far as our flock goes.  Our primary concern with the llamas is something called meningeal parasites.  These little varmints are dropped into the pasture by deer passing through our property.  Interestingly, llamas can't pass these on to other llamas.  They can only get them by eating pasture that's been exposed to deer droppings where the parasite eggs hatch and latch on to blades of grass.

Once consumed these little buggers move their way through the llamas system and deposit themselves in the spinal column.  They then begin to grow and cause nerve damage.  Eventually that leads to partial or complete paralysis.  Unfortunately we learned about these the hard way when we lost one of our llamas to them this past winter.  She got to the point that she could no longer stand and could only sit up if we propped her up.  She still ate but lost weight.  It got to the point where it was necessary to euthanize her.  That was heartbreaking.

In order to prevent the ravages of this parasite we treat the llamas with an injectable wormer call Ivomec.  In order to inject  this you have to hold the llama still enough for someone to slide the needle under the skin just behind a foreleg.  Easier said than done.

With some effort and the help of Seth and Spencer who combined are outweighed by two of the four llamas, we got them done.  The first two were a two year old and a one year old.  Small, but still pretty spunky.  The third was our adult male and the largest of the four, weighing in at well over 200#.  He was probably the easisest of the four ironically.

Now, this is really where the "hell hath no fury" part of the story comes in.  Our fourth patient is a female who is the alpha of the four.  She's about 50# less that the big male, but she has a real attitude.  When a llama get's annoyed enough they spit.  It starts with a sound sort of like a phlegmatic clearing it's throat.  Then you hear the hiss of the spit.  If you're lucky it misses you.  If you're not so lucky, you're sprayed with a gooey mist of partially digested green stuff. 

We managed to grab the female llama.  Seth and Spencer held her but her ears went back and the throat clearing commenced.  The ears going back are the first clue you're about to get sprayed.  The throat clearing just confirms it.  Not unlike that signficant other in your life when she's "spittin' mad."

I bent over for the injection when I heard the first of the spits.  Fortunately, (for me anyway) her target was the boys.  I felt the air from one spit go by my arm but the contents missed me.  Seth is yelling,"yuk, that's disgusting," but I couldn't tell at that point what he was referring to.  While Spencer was spared, Seth caught a shoulder full of the green stuff but dodged the others.  I quickly finished the injection and they turned her loose still trailing the rope around her neck which quickly came loose and dropped to the ground. 

Can't wait until thet last week of July to do it all over again.   This was our first time injecting the llamas.  They're pretty smart animals, so it may be the last.

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