Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Not growing up on a farm, when I first started visiting fellow farmer’s operations, I thought that farmers spent a surprising amount of time just standing around livestock pens chatting. Little did I know that there was a reason for this: a lot of livestock animals try to hide their illnesses, and when they think the farmer is engaged elsewhere (in other words, not focused on them) they will be more likely to show their symptoms. The farmer who is hanging around at the pens is actually engaged in deliberate observation, as this is how they are more likely to discover potential health issues.
What I have learned over the last 15 years of sheep farming is that there are many “signs” that things aren’t going as they should. Limping, staggering, reluctance to get up, or a runny nose are pretty obvious signs. But there are more subtle signs that tell a story, too: a hunched body posture, the way the head is held, a clenched jaw, or even the ear positioning can be signs of a health problem. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, such as cutting the nails or adjusting the feed - but sometimes we are off to the vet.
All over Canada there is a shortage of vets, especially large animal vets. In Thunder Bay, we are so fortunate to have Dr. Dan (vet) and Tisha (vet tech). Back in 2020 when our flock first arrived from Alberta, we began our relationship with this vet team through a flock health check. Significant travel is stressful for livestock so we wanted Dr. Dan’s opinion on the condition of our flock, as well as his input as to any supportive or preventive measures we could take as our sheep adjusted to their new farm. It was very helpful to have him here and we have continued to invite him back annually for this in-person visit.
Our first flock health check had a specific focus; yearly flock health checks are an opportunity to get feedback and advice about anything and everything related to our sheep operation from the vet’s perspective; even if all the feedback is positive and affirming, it is still helpful to have that confirmation! One other benefit we have noticed is that the annual visit gives the vet context for any animal you end up bringing him throughout the year as he understands how the animal is being raised. The relationship also means that we don’t hesitate to reach out for any questions or concerns we might have. We never consider the “value of a single animal against the cost of their treatment’. Getting good, reliable knowledge helps us improve our care in the future. We look at vet/vet tech care as lessons that are worth every penny and we are really happy to be able to work with a great vet team here in Thunder Bay!
Beverly watering our garden while also watching the sheep.