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  • Kristin Ramey

And now a 3-legged lamb

Yeah, it's been a year. And I am making decisions as an animal-lover, not as a farmer. Stuff happens, but too much stuff has been happening to us this year. This weather has not been easy on anyone. One of our barn stalls is still damp from all the rain we've been having. The cold, wet winter was hard on all the critters, followed by a very very damp spring. The sun is coming out, but the pasture is still damp, and clearly one barn stall is still a mess. We've had pneumonia, ringworm, lice; all things we typically never have here on the farm. It's just been a rough go.

And I've stated in other posts that I just can't take any more loss of life on the farm right now. I just can't. I spent a sick amount of money taking Poppy to the vet (which is how we learned about the lice and that she, asymptomatic to me, had pneumonia - so bad they thought she wouldn't survive.

Fast forward to now. Larry gets up one morning, about to leave for Rugby and says " yeah, there's a white lamb out there with a broken leg" How in the world? Well, there are two options - both of which have happened in the past... stuck in the hay feeder or stepped on by a cow. We either keep the cows in their own stall at night, or now that it has warmed up, the cows are kicked out of the barn at night to sleep in their three sided shelter. The reduces cow/lamb interactions that can cause broken legs. The hay feeder? Well, it keeps getting broken and we replace sections. We thought the cows were breaking it, but I think the sheep are, too. There is a hole in it that is supposed to be big enough for their heads - but they bust off some of the bars and now it's big enough for the sheep to climb all the way in and on top of the hay. So that means jumping down or squeezing back out the way they came in. This could create a leg tangle situation that could cause a break if he was trying to get out quick for some reason.

So Larry tells me this and I honestly don't panic or think much of it. I wait for Shannon to wake up - because this takes more than 2 hands, and we pack up our wraps, gauze, splints (yes, I own lamb leg splints), some antibiotics and a few other just-in-case items and we head down to the barn to find him.

It's Sorrel, Sparkles' ram lamb. And it is very broken. Shannon holds him on her lap and I discover that there is exposed bone. OK, that doesn't usually happen. I was expecting just a quick splint and let the little dude back on his way. I take a short minute to see if I can get the bone back under the skin and maybe align it. This is a big, fat no. The muscles have all contracted and I can't pull it hard enough to tuck it inside the skin.

This is where, if Larry was home, he would have said that it's just over. This is a meat production animal that I will sell for $300 tops. And that's not my profit, that's my sale price. But recall my previous posts that I honestly can't handle any more death. But I realize this is well past my skill level and for him to heal, this bone needs to be set properly. I can't cut the skin away to try and get it back in (I did try) because I might take out an important tendon or vein because I am NOT a vet.

So we bundle him into a crate and I get him up to CSU. Yup, this is likely a minimum of $500 just to head up there, more like $800 because I am going on a weekend. GREAT. He was a trooper on the way up in the truck - but I did hear him cough a few times.

I get up there, get him unloaded and give the vets my description in layman's terms. It's his rear right leg, below the knee, bad break, exposed bone. And oh, he's also coughing. They didn't even have to look at him. They told me flat out - exposed bone runs the risk of serious infection, and depending on how long the bone has been exposed, it may not knit back together even if they can align it. This is euthanasia or amputation. Those are my options. They ask me if he is a pet and I just stare at them. Then I respond that I am a meat producer, albeit a very small one. They ask me what I want to do and they tell me a few caveats. 1) it's gonna cost me. Yup, I knew that. 2) Because it is a long weekend, they are short staffed and are100% prioritizing life threatening emergencies. They may only be able to splint him up to help reduce his pain and stress and send me home with him until I could schedule surgery.

To my happiness, they had a surgeon on staff that weekend that "likes" to do amputations. OK, yeah, that creeped me out too. But from a clinical sense, it might be a skill set that she likes to practice and hopefully some students were able to be there to learn as well. I got lucky and they found time to squeeze in the surgery.

He ended up spending 2 nights at CSU. Saturday night he stayed so they could get him fasted, and get the antibiotics and anti-inflammatories moving. He had, you guessed it, pneumonia. So they wanted to make sure he was fully fasted so that he didn't aspirate anything into his already stressed lungs. They also wanted to run blood work, which came out great. So his only real risk was the pneumonia. But still a risk.

Sunday they did the surgery and called me that afternoon to tell me he was doing great. They wanted him to stay one more night, so they could keep him on the good drugs I can't give him at home, and they wanted to make sure he was eating and drinking and trying to stand.

He's home now and quite a fighter. He immediately wanted his mama - but after 2 nights in a sterile environment, and with a large surgical bandage, unfortunately Sparkles isn't taking him back without our assistance. We did hold her in place and little buddy just drank and drank like milk was going out of style. I think it was nutrition and comfort food.

Now he gets 2 weeks in the barn under supervision. We have to work with him, helping him stand so he can build new muscle memory on how to walk with only 1 rear leg. I got him up this morning and balanced and honestly he was just thrilled to stand up and pee.

The vets said he has 2 things going for him. First, that he is so young (just about 8 weeks old) that he can relearn how to walk, and build up the muscles he needs to make this happen. Secondly, since he is a meat animal, he is going to be processed somewhere around 9-10 months. She said this condition would be very challenging for a large, full grown ram. But since he'll have a short life, she said he should have a good one once he gets the hang of getting up and down.

This is my third go around with a three legged critter. My first was Ally - a dog that I adopted after she got shot in downtown Detroit. She lost her front right leg. Her biggest challenge was figuring out stairs and how to lay herself down when she was tired. It took her about 6 hours to figure that out and she was golden. With her flowy white fur - when she ran at the dog park most people couldn't tell that anything was missing. There definitely was a leg missing, but there was nothing missing on her speed and agility.

Then we had Katniss get shot by a neighbor and had to have her right front leg amputated, because the .22 round shattered her entire elbow. Katniss did great, too. She was 100% as soon as that bandage came off. She stayed a bit closer to home after that and went back to work teaching her two kittens, Lynx and Ginger, how to hunt.

The vets did say that the rear leg on a sheep is the better one to lose. They put a lot of weight on their front legs, and that would be a more difficult recovery. I am not sure I believe them, but Sorrel isn't complaining too hard about having a stall to himself, with his own hay to eat.

And he's been home now for two days and is really getting the hang of it. We still have to hold mama still for him to nurse, but he's been getting up and down on his own. He still has intramuscular antibiotics twice a day, anti-inflammatories orally once a day and one last blast of antibiotic/pain reducer subcutaneous tomorrow. His big yellow sticky bandage is to stay on until it falls off on its own, and then in about 2 weeks, we remove his stitches. We can take him back to CSU for this, or we can do it ourselves. We will likely try on our own - we have removed many a stitch and staple job here on the farm and we can handle that. I have high hopes for him, but want him to build up some good strength and balance before he goes back outside. He'll be coyote bait if he can't keep up with the flock, and if they get the gist that he's catchable with limited risk. So I am hoping he gets this figured out and he'll be just like my Ally-cat - fast and agile and you'd never know...

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