Yesterday at AM chores Pearl was "off". Didn't want to eat grain which is a very telling sign in this crowd and she seemed tired and wanted to lay down when everyone else was diving in. Her ears seemed pretty warm and having treated a ewe last week for pneumonia I thought that she might be in the early stages so I treated with penicillin and Banamine (antibiotic and 'liquid aspirin' to fight fever and inflammation) and then we had to leave for an appointment. We didn't return until about 4 PM and we expected to find her somewhat improved. The Banamine usually give a good boost of relief. Instead she was more depressed and rose only with difficulty, staggered a few steps and lay down again. My mind is racing and I'm thinking 'aggressive virus that antibiotics won't affect'. This time I take her temperature so I have something to tell the vet who I am going to go and call. Temperature is 102. Normal. That sure doesn't fit with her demeanor. So the vet is called and we change into barn clothes while awaiting her arrival.
By the time she arrives Pearl is very 'down'. The vet asks if she's pregnant. I say, "If she is she is a good ways off yet as she doesn't have any udder started. It's possible she didn't catch this year." An exam by the vet confirms there's no udder happening. Earliest possible lambing date is March 22 so if she's bred she doesn't seem anywhere near close up. Trying to get her to rise sends her into a coughing fit and leaves her gasping and almost unconscious. We discuss possibly adding a different antibiotic or giving IV fluids, but her condition is so bad it's pretty clear that antibiotics aren't going to have time to improve anything. The vet suggests that something catastrophic may have happened - a twisted gut, a cancer that reached a critical point....... It's 6 PM and we make the decision to put her to sleep.
After the vet leaves we move Pearl out of the group and into an empty pen to await burial the next day. We go on and do chores for the rest of the flock. While cleaning out the hay racks I see another ewe from the pen Pearl was in starting to do the same thing - dull, lethargic, not interested in feed. This ewe was acting normal two hours prior when the vet was still here. We take her temperature and it's a normal 102 degrees. I go into panic mode and start thinking 'poison' or 'something contagious'. The vet's emergency line is called and in two hours a second vet from the clinic is examining this second ewe. The ewe is clearly bagged up and this vet treats for ketosis and hypocalcemia - metabolic diseases peculiar to ewes in late gestation who aren't having their nutritional energy needs met. After IV therapy the ewe is standing up and eating in twenty minutes.
We have to know. We have the vet do a postmortem exam on Pearl. To my horror we find she was bred and carrying triplets. There are no abnormalities anywhere else. I am beside myself, but the situation can't be undone. The thing was.... she had NO udder development even though the lambs were of a size that indicate she should have lambed in the fore part of lambing season. She should have had a sizable udder. Could we have saved her with IV therapy? By the time the vet finished that exam she was so far gone.... and yet...given what she needed right into the blood stream.... I just don't know. All I know is that ketosis wasn't thought of so treatment wasn't done. Even if we hadn't opted for euthanasia she certainly would have died shortly since we didn't have the right scenario in our minds. Not having seen it in the flock we didn't recognize the signs.
So our painful lesson this year so far is
1. knowing the signs of ketosis and/or hypocalcemia in sheep (they often go together)
2. knowing that older ewes on poor forage (damn the drought) are most at risk even when being supplemented with grain
3. Ewes carrying mulitiple lambs are at risk
4. Ewes can be carrying lambs and not have an udder when they should
5. This problem doesn't always happen very very close to lambing, as the books say
6. If the ewe was with a ram and there's the remotest chance she's bred..... treat for ketosis. You can't make things worse.
I'm so sorry Pearl. I didn't get it right.