The scientist in me finds unexplained illness among my flock deeply unsatisfying. You may remember that I lost 4 ewes, none of them pregnant, during lambing. The post-mortem, frustratingly, could neither confirm nor rule out the most likely culprit: pulpy kidney (clostridium toxicity). There have been no further deaths, but I've been keeping an eye on a ewe who began losing her fleece not long after the mystery ailment episode.
Sheep do occasionally "shed" their entire coats, presumably as a result of serious illness. In fact, the sheep who died earlier in the year showed signs of shedding. So, I'm guessing the ewe I've been keeping an eye on had a non-fatal case of the mystery ailment. Lately, she also developed a severe limp, that hasn't gotten better with time. (There are usually one or two sheep with sore feet, not surprising in a flock that works rough, rocky ground. They seem to get better within a week or so, then someone else steps in a hole and goes about with a limp for a while.)
Yellow tag 006, though, has been limping for the best part of a month, so today I decided I'd best get her into the yards and see if she had a foot abcess or other infection issue. Also, as her new coat has grown out to a centimetre or so, I wanted to get rid of as much of the old coat as I could, as it is now coming off in clumps in the paddock.
It turns out all four feet--8 toes--have a break in the nail, a horizontal stripe about a centimetre up from the end of the toe. On two toes, this weak spot has split, and left a sort of hang-nail--no doubt the cause of the limp. I have never seen anything like this before, though I feel certain it was caused by the mystery ailment, like the shedding of her coat. I removed both hang-nails and gave her a shot of penicillin for luck, pulled away as much of the old coat as she had the patience to let me do, and let her go with the flock.
It wasn't the nicest of days to go through this exercise--damn chilly, in fact, with a stiff northwesterly breeze, overcast sky and the smell of snow in the air. The flock resented being put in the yards, necessitating a fair bit of running about by me as well as the dogs--which at least kept us warm! The flock now has access to 4 contiguous paddocks: Grass Gully, White Gum Wood, Eagle Tree and Back Gully. All the gates between them are open, and there is only one gate that could be a problem for lambs not following through with mama. I'll keep an eye on it. There are three diverse reserves adjacent to this larger area, so for the next few weeks I'll be shepherding them into the reserves, then back out again. Lots of fun!