On a cool but sunny late November day, I enjoy observing my flock of sheep dotting the pasture. On the whole, they look sleek, fat and healthy. But the two senior ewes, Nilufer (13 years old) and the unnamed number 45 (12 years old, rear left, behind her chubbier flock-mates, in the picture above) present a somewhat sad contrast. Both have been scrawny for years, so scrawny that for the last couple of years I’ve only had them sheared in the Spring, not both Spring and Fall like the rest of the flock. We decided that with little body fat they would need their full pelt to keep warm; their wool would not grow back fast and thick enough to insulate against winter weather.
I had always assumed that the old ewes’ scrawniness was just a function of their age, much as many humans diminish as they get older. Both ewes have hearty appetites; both can keep up with the flock as it moves about; and both lambed successfully last year. These are all indicators of decent health. They are both very people friendly. But several weeks ago, Nilufer and 45 were among the half dozen or so flock members who suffered with diarrhea and/or had indications of anemia, signs of potential infection with parasitic worms.
I administered medication to all half dozen, and was immediately successful with the younger flock members. But Nilufer and 45 both required a second treatment. And even after the second treatment, 45 continued to have the runs. I consulted the vet, who recommended yet a third treatment and, if the diarrhea did not resolve in a week, that I bring in a stool sample to try to diagnose her.
The lab analysis told us that 45′s problem was not parasitic worms. While the absence of resistant parasites was the good news, the bad news from the vet was that it could mean other causes like Johne’s Disease (a microbacterial infection of the gut that results in poor food absorption) or another wasting disease. I asked what she would recommend, and she responded that I could test for Johne’s Disease, which could be done with the stool sample already submitted but could take 12 weeks, or I could wait and see if she was suffering from cold in the winter and euthanize her if she was, or I could cull her now to avoid spreading of whatever she has.
Naturally I hate the idea of culling an animal that seems otherwise quite happy, with a hearty appetite, and is in no distress. But I hate equally the idea of exposing the rest of the flock to a disease for which there is no effective treatment, though apparently there is a vaccine.
Is this dilemma beginning to sound familiar? It reminds me of some of the difficult decisions our governmental authorities, listening to the advice of their public health experts, must make to deal with COVID-19 and other diseases. We don’t cull humans, but we do isolate or quarantine them, or forbid them from engaging in economic activity, in order to prevent spreading infection broadly. Getting the balance right is not easy.
For now, I’ve opted just to get the test done for Johne’s disease. My decision not to cull was informed by the resolution of 45′s diarrhea and by my learning that Johne’s disease develops slowly over time. If this is the cause of 45′s and Nilufer’s several years of scrawniness, others in the flock are likely already infected and waiting another 12 weeks won’t matter very much. If the test comes back positive, I will consider culling the two oldest ewes. And in either event, I will try to obtain vaccine for the rest, though vaccine is thought to be most effective in young lambs.
I am relieved that if I decide to cull these ewes it will affect nobody outside this farm. That makes it unlikely that I will be vilified, harassed or threatened by political activists who object to disease control measures that impinge on any activity, even when that activity spreads deadly infection.
This weekend we’ve learned that there is an Omicron variant of Covid 19 of concern to the World Health Organization. The variant has spread in quickly in South Africa where vaccine hesitancy is apparently a major factor in the low vaccination rate. Even before any Omicron infections are identified here, our country is preparing for a fifth surge of hospitalizations and deaths. This surge is also fueled by vaccine hesitancy and resistance to wearing masks. At the same time, we hear that President Biden’s approval rating has hit new lows, largely because of inflation and supply chain disruptions which are by-products of the pandemic. Yet vaccine opponents and anti-maskers, who are contributing in major ways to the problem, are the ones who judge him most negatively for not finding the solutions.
The know-nothingism that is extending and possibly intensifying the pandemic leads me to fear that the doomsayers among us may be right. It’s the same know-nothingism which denies the human role in climate change and opposes spending money to mitigate it. The sort of know-nothingism that creates crises and leads to political instability.
In the early 1960′s Stop the World I Want to Get Off was the title of a light-hearted West End musical. Sometimes nowadays, it becomes my motto.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
There’s much less after the frost, but I harvested some stuff in advance, so there are still:
Daikon Radish, $2/each – large, great for radish salads, kimchee
Poblano peppers — great for chiles rellenos $1 each
Sweet frying peppers, also $1 each
Collard greens $3/bag
EGGS: $5/doz Production is dropping off dramatically, but there are still a few coming in, so ask
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.