Sunday, September 07, 2008

On the job training, again.

Our ram is a big old boy. He is tough, and has a tendency to be a bully. He isn't exactly mean, but he will push you around. He has sent Papaw, Tim and I all flying a time or two. His favorite target once was Billy Bob, the goat. Billy was pretty young when we got him and the ram was the boss.

We separated them, and during that time Billy grew up. He still isn't as big as the ram, but he has a large set of horns that more than compensate for the body size difference. The last time they got together, while we were moving some animals to a different pasture, Billy got the better of the ram. He gave him a couple of good scrapes and small punctures. We put bag balm on the sores, and other than the ram being a bit more humble for a few days, he was just fine.

The ram's latest tangle we suspect was with a deer about a week ago. He had two puncture wounds, one on his front leg and the other about mid abdomen. We covered them with bag balm and didn't think anything else about it.

About mid week I noticed he wasn't acting quite himself. He stayed in the barn a lot, and wasn't waiting at the gate to plow me over at feeding time. It was very hot this week, and he has behaved similarly in the heat before. I didn't think much of it, and was happy to not have to fight him to feed the sheep.

Then yesterday he came out for feed while I was still there. I noticed that the wound on his abdomen looked black and not healed, and he stunk. Not your normal sheep stink, but a rotten stink. I tried to look at the wound. It wasn't easy to hold him and look at it, so I decided to wait until Tim was home to help, but I supected fly strike.

I knew sheep were susceptible to fly strike. I had read a bit about it when we were deciding about docking the lambs tails. The problem is that I had only read about it in conjunction with tails and flies laying eggs in manure that could accumulate on the fleece. I never even thought about it being a problem elsewhere.

Looking back it seems silly that I wouldn't see that there is a connection. Blow flies like sheep. An open wound is a warm moist place perfect for laying their eggs. Well, duh! But that seems to be how we learn things around here, a little at a time, putting bits and pieces of knowledge together. On the job training you could say. I know this is part of the learning curve with animals, but every time something happens I feel so bad.

If you're squeamish you may want to skip ahead to "SAFE NOW."

When Tim got home we went out to look at the ram. The wound looked to be the size of a quarter, so we didn't expect cleaning him up would take long. Tim pulled back on the wound, which in fact was nothing but black rotted flesh, to expose it and found it full of maggots. I couldn't look, but the smell was awful.

He started scraping them out and just kept finding that the wound and the maggots went deeper and longer along the rams abdomen. Tim trimmed back fleece and dead skin, scraped out maggots and poured on peroxide or alcohol for about an hour and half while I tried to keep the ram still. We were all exhausted by the time we were done.


The ram is left with a gaping wound about four inches long. We debated stitching him and tried to find information on the internet, but with no luck. Most of what I found addressed pets, (This can affect almost any animal, but sheep are the host of choice for the fly.) or for commercial farming, not for homesteaders.

We think we got all of the problem out, but are opting to keep the wound open and clean it out several times a day with antiseptic just be safe. The ram was given a dose of penicillin and we removed him from the pasture and barn. We tied him out and are moving him around the yard to keep a closer eye on him and to give him a cleaner place to lie down. We also gave him a good spraying of fly spray to try to keep the flies away.

He seems perfectly happy and is eating, and hopefully headed for a full recovery. From other accounts I read about in severe cases (I can't imagine what that would look like.) the animal is listless and lethargic. It will kill them and it is best to put them down. This was bad enough. I am glad to have caught when we did, though I wish I had paid closer attention earlier.

Lessons learned from this on the job training session:

1. Fly strike can happen at any weak point on the sheep.
2. Fly strike can affect other animals.
3. I need to pay more attention when an animal has a wound or is not quite acting like their normal self.

These are hard lessons to learn.


  1. eww, yeah,, this is the point where I pay any amount of money to have the vet take care of it. LOL.

  2. Homesteading sounds wonderful to me . . . until you get to the maggots! I think I would have passed out. You and Tim are much braver than I'll ever be :-)

  3. Crystal and Sarah,
    Trust me we did not know what we were getting into with the ram. Had it been a weekday when Tim wasn't home, I'd probably have been loading the ram up and heading to the vet. (puking all the way)

  4. ick - I should have stopped reading at the warning.

  5. the Gram will keep her " CITY " life any day of the week , thank you very much! You even grossed out Grandpa with that one!

  6. If I may add my two cents... I couldn't smell a thing, so it wasn't that bad. I did have to use a spoon to scoop out the maggots. It was like burrowing a tunnel on the side of the ribs between the actual ribs and wool. He is healing nicely and I think(hope) it will turn out fine.

  7. Glad you caught that in time. Ewww!

  8. I can read about it, but I could never survive actually doing it. I had that happen to a cat once, and it nearly slayed me, and that was only a couple of maggots. Glad the ram will be OK. Hopefully you will too!

  9. oh my gosh, that's the nastiest thing i've ever read! you guys were very compassionate to clean him out like that. i'm afraid i may have told jason to go get the gun...