Heat, Fencing, and Boils...OH MY!

And now, for the less-than-idyllic side of shepherding life...DISCLAIMER - I am NOT complaining and I am still very much in love with my sheep...just sayin' that it's not all sunshine, butterflies, and getting to pet Mikey all day long! Although he thinks it should be!

"Mommy, why you up there and not petting me???"
As some of you might remember from a previous post, I have been lamenting the fact that we are having the worst summer for heat and lack of rain that I can ever remember, since moving here 20 years ago. Since writing that post, however, we got a break - some beautiful rain showers and temps below 90 (sometimes even in the 70s...blessed, sweet relief!!)! During one of the rain showers, my sheep, who have been grazing in our yard because their pastures are pretty much shot, got very wet before I could get them back to their barn - I wasn't terribly worried about this because I figured they would dry out and all would be well. But what happened is that the combination of the lanolin, dirt and rain in their wool sort of shellaced together (for lack of a better word), making a crusty top on their backs. Again, I didn't think much about this, figuring it would all work itself out - I mean, sheep must get rained on from time to time, right?
Thinking to take advantage of the cooler weather, I herded them down to one of our southern pastures - this is one that they visited previously, but because there isn't any shade there, I didn't want them out there when it was so hot. But with the cooler temps, I figured they would be fine, so I hauled water down to them, took lots of adorable pictures, then went back inside for a couple of hours. When I went out to check on them, I found all three, trying to huddle under a tiny little apple tree that straddles the fence of the pasture - at first I couldn't figure out what they were doing, until they came running at me, baahing for all they were worth, and when they stopped, poor Mikey was panting, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. I realized they were trying to find shade, and research on the internet by my wonderful daughter revealed that because their wool was matted on the top, they weren't able to "breathe" through their wool and cool off - and being in the sun was making it worse. It didn't matter how cool the day - they needed shade. So we quickly got them to the backyard where Mikey continued to pant with his tongue out - he was also rubbing his head against the trees, which was weird and scary - sometimes he'll scratch himself on things, but this kept going on and on. So we got some rubbing alcohol onto a cloth and gently rubbed it on his belly, where there is little to no wool - particularly in his armpits (something my daughter found online about dealing with sheep with heat exhaustion). He slowly got back to normal, drank a bit, stopped panting, and started grazing again, but we stayed outside with him for a long time - I was terrified that I had killed or permanently hurt my sheep. Panda Bear and Black Velvet never did the scary panting - once they were up in the yard in the shade, they were fine and went back to grazing. I think with Mikey it's a combination of a couple of things - first off, he's a BIG BOY! He is significantly heavier than his sisters, so I suspect he's going to get hotter than they do. But his wool on his back was really glued together from that rain we had, so after he was feeling better, I spent a lot of time, just rubbing my fingers through his wool, trying to break it apart and get some air back down to the skin - kind of like a giant scritching-massage session! And he loved it - at one point, when I was sitting there watching him, he came up and put his head in my lap - I think he was telling me, "It's okay, Mom - I know you didn't mean for us to get sick!"
The sweetest, loviest sheepicorn...see his horn?
At some point we'll build a shade shelter for those south pastures, but this year, they can graze down our yard (which is really big with lots of trees) and eat hay. They still have their minerals in the barn, and I see them eating that quite often, along with their hay, so I know they're doing just fine!
Next on my list to tell you about has to do with our cherry tree and rhubarb plant. When Lee brought the sheep home to me, three months ago yesterday, she said, "Be careful that they don't get into the cherry tree, eat any rhubarb, or get a hold of daffodils - all of those are toxic to sheep." Well, none of that was a problem until we started letting them into the yard to graze. By now, of course, the daffodils are gone, and my wonderful husband put fencing around the rhubarb and the cherry tree to keep them away from those:
Once the rhubarb was ready to harvest, I was able to get that cleaned out of the yard and move its fencing over to the cherry tree:
So life was going on just fine - the sheep stayed away from the cherry tree fence and had a lovely time in the yard...until they realized that there was still grass in there, next to the cherry tree. Never mind that there are grass and trees all over the yard - what they wanted was inside that fence.
Yesterday, I heard Black Velvet maahing...yes, it's true...she doesn't baah, she maahs. Which amuses me to no end because it sounds like she's calling for her "MA!" But this time it was different...it sounded more like a MOO than a MAAH, so I went outside to look for her - it was so clear from her voice that something was wrong. I found her down the hill, under our deck (there's a concrete patio down there that they like to lay on when it's hot)...with a chunk of fencing stuck on her head! She had apparently been trying to reach the grass near the cherry tree, got her head stuck in it, then wandered down the hill to her "comfort area" (the cool concrete), thinking to somehow escape! I walked carefully toward her, thinking that if she got spooked and ran away from me, she could get really hurt - but the instant she saw me, she said, "MAAAOO!!" and started running right at me - I think that was sheep-speak for "GET-IT-OFF-GET-IT-OFF-GET-IT-OFF!!!!" I was able to gently pull it off from around her head - she then stepped in it and got it stuck on a hoof, but before I could help with that, she jerked her foot out and RAN! She was all kinds of done with that stupid fence! I checked her over after she calmed down and there were no injuries - not cuts or scrapes - just wounded sheepy pride, I suspect! So the day went on, just fine...until last night when my husband looked out the window and said, "Jen, there's a sheep trying to get to the cherry tree." I was up and out of my chair like a shot, and sure enough - Mikey had worked his way into the fence - not to get to the tree, but just to get to the grass in there!
I'm not sure what David found funnier - the fact that Mikey had so gingerly made a little path through the fence to carefully get to the grass (remember, this is a big sheep we're talking about, and he didn't knock down the fence or get his head stuck in it - yes, Black Velvet, I'm looking at you - but he had pretty much opened up the fence and walked through it, creating a path as he went to get to the grass), or that I went out and immediately started scolding my sheep - "Mikey! That is a naughty sheep! You get out of there this minute!!" I love it when Mikey gives me that look - that patient, sheepy look - the, "Yeah, okay, Mom. We both know I'm pretty much gonna do whatever I want anyway, so you go ahead and rant if it makes you feel better!" The kids helped to distract him while I went about re-securing the fence - I suspect, however, that something more permanent is going to need to be built around the cherry tree as Mikey Houdini (and his somewhat clumsier sister) are totally enamored of the grass nearby!
So the final thing to report is that Panda Bear has a boil on her face. Yes, a boil. An abscess of some kind. A big bump on the right side of her face - see the black spot near her mouth? That didn't used to be three-dimensional:



I called Lee and asked her about it - she suspects that it's a wasp sting or something like a sliver or a hayseed that got stuck and is infected - she said it's always best to let them get better on their own because opening them up can cause problems with further infection. I've been able to hold onto her and feel it, and it's solid with a bit of squishiness around it, so I'm sure it's got some nasty crap in there. Last night it occurred to me that I hadn't looked up "boils" in sheep when trying to figure out what it was - but after feeling it again last night, that's what it reminded me of, so one Google search later, and I found these articles:

Abscess, Boil, Goiter...

Cruels-Abscesses in Sheep

Turns out that Panda Bear more than likely has a cruel - which are common in Icelandics! So the best course of action is to let it get big - with a head on it (and where the hair has stretched away from it) - then lance it and clean it out with hydrogen peroxide. Both articles also suggest antibiotics, so as I am still so very new to all of this, I am going to call our vet to come out and take care of her - I'd like to be able to watch them do it so that I can learn how to on my own someday, if the need arises - and, to play it safe, I'd also like for them to run a test to make sure it really is a cruel, as opposed to CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis), which can be deadly.

So yes...sunsine, butterflies, and petting Mikey does happen - quite a bit, actually! But I'm learning how to cope with unexpected emergencies, which is good for all of us in the long run!

Thanks for reading!


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