It’s not my intent to post day by day happenings with our animals, however I got taught a sharp lesson a week ago.
With the continuing dry we’d put our small sheep flock on the flood plain of the creek where there is still some growth and I could supplement a bit of crack willow by lopping limbs and at the same time break-feed them along that green strip.
Now I’ve known for years that buttercup is supposed to be poisonous but for just as long, if not longer, I’ve also seen sheep eat it with relish and no ill effects. Introduced giant buttercup, Ranunculus acris, is an official pest plant because it taints cows milk (thanks for the reminder Sadeik), acris has the same origin as acrid. But that’s not what we have, instead it is boring old, pedestrian, absolutely everywhere creeeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens, so I never gave it a second thought, even when the mob was one short and I found ‘Son of Clover’ with his back end covered in flies, I just thought ‘fly strike’, because there is often a fly surge in early autumn. We got the mob in, the flies were just getting started on him and the others were OK. Clip off the dirty wool and maggots, drench the lot for worms and give them all racing stripes of fly strike preventive. Even now I hadn’t clicked that he wasn’t just sloppy but had full on scours.
As he walked out of the yards he let go with a mass of bloody diarrhea, bugger, quarantine time. Next day he had pneumonia and the day after that he got a wheelbarrow ride to the offal-pit. Can’t go getting too sentimental but, mo taku he (my bad).
The only thing we could find that made sense was buttercup poisoning. The poison, ranunculin, causes blisters and lesions throughout the intestines, resulting in bloody diarrhea. Poor buggar, no wonder he looked so miserable. The taste is usually enough to stop livestock eating much of it, and I guess like so many things a little in moderation is fine but being break-fed, he must have decided that the solid patch near the fence was good stuff and filled up on it.
The ranunculin is neutralised by drying so it isn’t a problem in hay, and the solution then is to cut heavy areas of buttercup and either remove it or wait until it has dried before giving the stock access.
We’re not in the habit of naming our sheep but some get names. Clover, had joint ill as a lamb and got cossetted. She is now our Judas for getting the mob into the yards and Son of Clover was a triplet that she mothered but wouldn’t let feed so he got bottle fed for a while. Between them, they kept the mob calm in the yards and that makes working with the sheep so much easier.