Several months ago, I noticed that Octavian was dropping weight, and was being bullied off his feed by the ram lambs. Although Ock was always a gentle, laid back ram, this was certainly not normal behavior for him. I just had a bad feeling from the get-go.
Ock was separated from the rest of the ram group, and supplemented with grain along with his hay ration. Ock only picked at his feed. Perhaps he was distracted by the ladies? I added Babybee and Queen Anne to his pen, hoping that would perk him up.
Ock showed much interest in his girls, he never did act depressed or dumpy. I scheduled a vet visit.
Our vets at the Peotone clinic are wonderful. Fellow shepherds, they know how I feel about my sheep and I view our doctor/ client relationship almost as a partnership. That is how they treat me. After putting Ock on supportive care, they did bloodwork and found a high temperature, elevated white blood cells, and his liver enzymes were off. They recommended that Ock go to the vet school at U of I in Champaign for an ultrasound.
The people at U of I were just great. They stayed late that night to try to find out what was wrong with Ock. The girls petted him and talked to him as they examined him. Probably for my benefit. I tried hard to play the part of the hard core shepherd and not the dramatic, hand wringing pet owner, but they could tell that I cared about this ram. I feel strongly that vet's are not paid to deal with hysterics when they are trying to do their jobs. I was calm, cool, and collected.
After a final chin scratch, we left him there that night. I had a sinking feeling that I'd never see him again.
After five days of supportive care, including IV's, X-rays, pain control, ultrasounds, and blood work, Ock's temperature came down, but he was still only picking at his food.
And I have a sizable flock of sheep to think about....What was wrong with him? Was it contagious? Was it heritable?
After consulting with my vet at Peotone and the vet at U of I, we decided to let Ock go and have a necropsy performed. For the sake of the rest of my flock.
The vet at U of I asked me if I wanted to come down and say goodbye to him. I declined. It would have been selfish to continue dragging out his discomfort and would have been hard on me, but...Ock wasn't a dog. Did he love me or care about me? Was he missing me? Did he feel about me the way I felt about him?Mmmmm......realistically....no. I retreated to my office and finally allowed myself a good cry.
Nothing was found at the gross necropsy. I was disappointed and nervous. The Johnnes tests came back next, and I was relieved that at least he definitely did not have Johnnes. Histology and the rest of the bloodwork would take a while, so I sat back and waited for a month.
I can't tell you what went through my mind for this month, besides worry that I was going to lose my flock to some weird disease. And the usual "why am I doing this?" that rolls through my mind whenever I suffer a shepherding disappointment. I became paranoid, and watched the rest of the flock like a hawk for any signs of wasting. I drove myself nuts. "Is that ram looking a little thin?" Bare hands on their backs, feeling and probing the flesh over the ribs, watching them gobble their feed, continuing to drive myself crazy with anxiety.
Well, the vet called yesterday. After $550 in vet bills, we know that Ock had "Lymphocytic Plasmacytic Enteritis". It is a chronic inflammation of the stomach, otherwise known as inflammatory bowel disease. It affected Ock from his abomasum into his small intestine. It was smart of me to let him go.
The vet assured me that this happens as a 'sporadic occurrence of low frequency' in many species of animal, and it was probably not heritable. Thank God, no wasting disease. There are no implications to the rest of my flock from Ock's decline. So I am relieved, but I still miss my Ock. He was my favorite ram.
I hope that Babybee settled and is carrying an Ock baby in her belly. Or maybe Queen Anne will give me something special. While I had hoped to use Ock for many years to come, but I am grateful that I had this fine ram on my farm for as long as I did. And I have two gulmoget Ock daughters to carry on his memory. Life goes on.