Editors' Note & Caveat: This week's very explicit sheep ranching incident may require more fortitude than some of our subscribers can muster, just before sitting down to a family Thanksgiving feast, so we have posted it on a separate page with a link.
"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley."
Fresh Frozen Fetus and Pale Orange Cotyledons
When I had mentioned over the two-way that I'd found several aborted lambs, my boss had suggested that we needed to be more careful about moving the sheep through gates -- or handling them too roughly.
"Don't let those guys push them too hard," he had said, "If the ewes get bumped around on their bellies, or chased by the dogs, they'll sometimes abort."
"I don't think they've been rough," I said.
"Let me know if you find any more."
"In fact, if you find a fresh one -- still warm -- put it in a bag and stick it in your freezer. We'll take it to town and have it tested."
That conversation had been almost a week ago. I now had four fresh frozen fetuses in Sherry's deep-freezer, each wrapped in a green and white, sheep supplement, feed bag.
Because of our distance from a public school, we had access to some state provided services for home-schooling our kids. This included an excellent library loan program. I had ordered everything I could find on sheep. In addition I had ordered most of the sheep publications offered by the Oregon and Washington state extension services. I was putting myself on the fast track to being a "shepherd."
I read all I could about sheep. I looked up information on any suspected diseases and ailments. Under the subject of "abortions," I learned there were several diseases that might cause ewes to abort. One particular disease seemed to fit the bill: Ovine Vibriosis.
The symptoms included late term abortions, ewes not particularly ill, a pale orangish coloring to the cotyledons.
The aborted fetuses I found in the pasture were still encased in the sac, which was spotted with the pale orange cotyledons.
Cotyledons are the "buttons" on the sac that the fetus grows in. They are normally bright red, and the sac is normally not expelled until after birth.
The ewes that had aborted didn't appear ill; the only telltale sign was a small amount of reddish-brown vaginal discharge.
The prognosis for Ovine Vibriosis sounded dire: highly infectious with 20 to 70 percent of fetuses aborted; lambs that survived to birth would be born weak -- or dead; a few unexplained abortions early on would soon be followed by a "storm!"
(Pregnant women can catch vibriosis from infected sheep. Please wash your hands after reading this story.)