The photographs above show Josephine (the little white lamb) and Nubbins (the cream colored, badger-faced ram lamb with nubby horns) grazing. Nubbins is only six weeks older, but notice the difference in their size. Josephine should be much bigger than she is, but her growth – and that of her brother’s – has been stunted (at least for the time being) by intestinal parasites.
Our Icelandic sheep have very few health issues; that’s one of the reasons we selected the breed. They are hardy. Still, every summer we wage war against parasites that live in the pasture and whose life cycle is complete at the expense of our flock. The sheep eat the grass, ingesting parasitic larvae like barber pole worms that latch onto the intestinal lining to feed (leave scar tissue in their wake). Most sheep carry a low load of parasites during the summer, but a high load can lead to red blood cell defeciency so we check eyelids every week for paleness that might indicate anemia. Resistance to intestinal parasites is both genetic and environmental; we do the best we can with the environment, and try to breed those sheep who seem to have genetic resistance.
The mother of Josephine and her brother Bear doesn’t seem to pass on resistance, even though she herself rarely has any problems. As such, Bear and Josephine both suffered from a high intestinal parasite load at a very young age which has slowed their growth.
I am excited to report that this week both of them finally had lovely pink eyes lids! They are fighters and voracious grazers. There’s even a bit of sassiness to Josephine’s gait, a confidence in her walk that says there’s more to her than her size lets on. She even holds her own against Hamish, our big ram, when we feed the sheep treats.
So here’s to Bear and Josephine … may this week’s good news mean that we can stop monitoring them as closely as we have been for the past three months, because that’s getting tiring. 🙂