The Right Decision

We all have to make difficult decisions at times. I was in that position last month about a ram I had bought only a couple of months previously. Today I had confirmation that I made the right call. WARNING: There are some yucky photos part way through this post.

I wrote this blog post about the trip to pick up a new ram in early August. I have looked through my photos and can’t find a “before” photo of the left side of Legolas. This is the one that was posted on Facebook by the seller:

legolas

In early September I noticed that his horn looked like this on the left:

legolas-8-of-8

That left horn is touching his face. I knew that the horn wasn’t like that when I bought the ram and I was amazed that it could grow so fast that in a month. There was no obvious sign of damage. I had noticed flies around his horns, but again, no sign of blood or a wound. With the horn that close to his face it would be a problem if it continued to grow that direction, putting pressure on the jaw. Even if it didn’t grow more there would be continued skin irritation at the point of contact.

A few days later I caught Legolas to figure out what to do about that horn. I couldn’t even get my finger between the horn and the jaw. Here is what surprised me. When I held the horn not only did it move, but I could see movement in part of the skull where the horn was attached. Yikes!

legolas-horns-3

Behind the horns I found a small opening, which got a little bigger as I scrubbed with hydrogen peroxide. This had been covered with hair and really wasn’t visible until I started  cleaning up around it. I could squeeze out a little bit of pus but not very much. There was minimal blood or drainage and the edges of that wound looked already healed over, just not healed together to close up the pocket.

legolas-horns-5

I could move the horn (and skull) so that there was a little space between the horn and the jaw, so I tried to anchor the horn in place with duct tape and wire attached to the other horn. (This was the most mild-mannered ram I’ve ever worked with.)

legolas-horns-6

This is all the progress that was made by that–not much but better than touching the jaw.

legolas-horns-8

That pink stuff is Swat to keep flies away. As I was working on this I was thinking that I didn’t remember these rams fighting, but that would be the only way to account for this injury. At the time I think I just had Catalyst and Marv in the ram pen. When I first brought this ram home I used the “buddy-up” pen, a very VERY small pen where the rams can tussle with each other but not move backwards and run at each other. They usually fight in this small pen where they can barely turn around and when they move to the big pen after a couple of days they mostly behave themselves. They may still posture and fight but hopefully they quickly figure out the hierarchy and the hitting isn’t as violent.

I looked back through my videos and found one of Catalyst (another two-horn ram) and Legolas making some pretty hard hits. Then I remembered that a few days after I moved them all out to the ram pen I was worried about Legolas. He seemed “off”, shaking his head and not eating much. Nasal bots will make sheep very uncomfortable.

Legolas also had bloody lips and gums. I remembered talking to my vet to find out if that was a another symptom of bluetongue because bluetongue causes edema, ulceration, and soreness of the mouth, in addition to listlessness and not eating (because of the sore mouth). At that time I treated him for nasal bots and with antibiotics to prevent secondary infection due to bluetongue. Eventually he got better.

But now, a month later, I realized that he had probably been injured the month prior but the damage to his skull was not obvious.

The wire and duct tape didn’t work. I didn’t take long for Legolas to start scratching and rubbing on the tree and fence and put the horn right back where it had been. I thought about using rebar or something stouter but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to rig up something stable enough to keep the horn in place and besides I wasn’t able to move it enough to be a long term fix. This was not a sustainable situation.

I made the decision to put the ram in the freezer. I am in the sheep business, not the sheep rehab and geriatrics business. Butchering the ram would provide meat and I would have his hide and skull to sell.

Before I can sell the skull it needs to be cleaned. I take the easy way out and put it out in the back and let nature take its course. Today some Farm Club members were here and some of them wanted to see the skull. I was amazed that we could clearly see the damage done to the skull by the fighting. This photo shows the skull fracture clearly:

legolas-skull-3

I have had two other rams die from fighting. Once, early on in my Jacob-raising days, one ram killed another (a 6-month old ram lamb owned by my friend but here for breeding) through the electric fence. The ram lamb was standing when I went into the barn and lying dead at the fence when I came out. (I tried butchering that one myself but that wasn’t so easy. Now that I’m thinking of that I remember that my daughter and I finally dug a hole to bury him, thinking that eventually we’d be able to dig up a skeleton–she was taking a taxidermy class at the time.) Now I do all I can to separate breeding groups without fence-line contact. Another time I was watching when two rams (that had been buddies just a moment ago) started fighting and one staggered away and finally dropped. I took a wheelbarrow in to the pen to get him out and found that he was still breathing. I guess he was in a coma because it’s not normal to be able to load a living adult ram into a wheelbarrow, but I did. I was able to have that one butchered to salvage meat and hide.

The other memorable fighting ram story is about Ranger, a ram that had a beautiful fleece and personality. He wasn’t killed fighting but suffered a skull fracture. With that one I discovered how serious it was when I saw his eye bulging from it’s socket. The swelling in his head was so bad that it pushed the eye forward and the lid couldn’t close over it. I don’t remember if the vet came out or we just talked on the phone, but remember  treating and covering the eye and I kept the ram in a small pen until the swelling went down and there was no movement of the horn and skull.

At the time I asked the vet how to tell if there was brain damage. I still remember her answer: “It’s not like he has to drive heavy machinery.”

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5 thoughts on “The Right Decision

  1. I’m sure sorry to hear about Legolas. His story is certainly a good example of how being a shepherdess is really not for the faint of heart. I admire your ability to make the right decision, and I like the way you put it – you’re not in the sheep rehab business. I hope you don’t have any more serious injuries with your rams any time soon. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Do you know any ropers? They sometimes reenforce horns using rebar and casting material (like for broken arms). It wraps on like duct tape but hardens and would hold up better when they start rubbing.

    • Interesting idea. In this case I couldn’t get the horn far enough away from the face to where it would be a sustainable situation. That is good to know for another situation.

  3. Wow, that’s amazing, sounds like the right call to have butchered him, I can’t imagine that big of a split healing. I wonder if he had a heckuva a headache to boot? I think in some of your photos, his face looks subtly asymmetrical, like that whole side of his face was puffy and/or sagging some, with the weight of the horn pulling that side of the skull downward? Probably not enough to have noticed in life (and it would have been hard to imagine the cause); but now that we know what was wrong with him, it seems like you can see it a little in the pictures. Thanks for sharing, that is an interesting and unfortunate injury!

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