Shepherding affords all sorts of new opportunities for hypochondria, rationalized as concern for the animals in my care, and fertilized by my general sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. Every time a sheep coughs, I wonder if it’s just swallowed a tickle-y blade of grass, or whether I have a flock-wide case of Ovine Progressive Pneumonia. I’ve recently noticed Matilda, one of the Romney ewes, coughing more often than the other sheep, or so I thought. Then yesterday, she was looking a little puffy around the neck, and I convinced myself that she had Bottle Jaw, a swelling associated with severe anemia, usually caused by a heavy burden of Haemonchus contortus, a parasitic nematode.
I contacted Bill in a bit of a tizzy, describing what I thought I was seeing. He said coughing and bottle jaw are signs of a life-threatening infestation with Haemonchus, and urged me to treat the ewe with antiparasitic medication as soon as possible. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get close enough give her a dose while she was out on pasture, but Matilda was very calm this morning and took her medicine like a champ.
This evening, I did a bit more poking around her putative edema, and it felt more like puffy wool than fluid accumulation. When I finally sent Bill a photo of the ewe, he confirmed that the puffy spot was in the wrong place to be bottle jaw, which usually manifests directly under the jaw, not at the sides. And the truth is, I hadn’t heard her cough in quite a few days. I’m pretty sure that crying wolf is better than ignoring or not noticing a real health concern, but it sure will be nice when I get a clue.