As Valentine approaches her fourth birthday, Matt and I noticed that a slight limp she had lately developed had grown more serious. Instead of a slight lilt to her gait, she had begun heavily favoring her right front foot and touching her left down gently.
For those who don’t know the sheep well, Valentine is most flighty and shy of all of my ewes. While Meadowlark and Bobolink grab the spotlight and other ewes hang around inspecting, she hangs back with old Peggy, well out-of-range of petting and attention. Every year, she has delivered a lamb or two for me. Every year, her fiber has been very soft, and also remarkably clean because she is never in the range of hay falling from my arms as I fill the feeders. Right now, she’s a soft white cloud, well out of reach.
Even slowed down with a limp, it took Matt and I several tries to catch and subdue her. Sheep are remarkable in their ability to tuck their legs under their bodies to avoid being snagged, and for their wily dodging. Eventually, we had Valentine resting calmly on her rear end, legs spread.
A quick exam of her chest and legs revealed nothing. I was almost ready to let her go when a glance at her hoof showed a small injury on her inner knuckle. The hoof was intact, but some redness and blood showed above. Squeezing produced pus, and some clear discomfort for Valentine. I expressed all of the pus I could and then sprayed her with disinfectant.
There is a serious ailment of sheep called foot rot that has some characteristics in common with Valentine’s wound. Foot rot in sheep would be like a ferocious combination of trenchfoot and athletes foot in humans. Two species of anaerobic bacteria work in tandem creating redness, cracking, soreness and bleeding in the interdigital flesh of the hoof, while sores and weakness develop in the hoof wall. In severe cases, the hooves can separate from the flesh of the foot. Foot rot will be carried by the whole flock but not every individual will be severely lame.