Wed, Feb. 26

Life in the Slow Lane: 'Worm Free'

I wasn't a helicopter parent with my kids, and I'm not a helicopter farmer when it comes to my animals. I'd rather watch and wait to treat something until I'm sure the animal can't handle it on her own rather than dose proactively. A couple of weeks ago the moment for treating arrived for Tiny, my oldest ewe.

Shortly after she gave birth to her lambs she began to look like she had Scours. That's diarrhea to you and me. I started checking her eyes, pulling down her lower external lid to look at her internal eyelid.

Checking that eyelid is a good way to see if they have blood-sucking internal parasites. At my first check, her inner lid was bright red.

Anything paler than that means something is definitely amiss.

She kept having her problem and I kept checking. Everything was rosy for awhile. More importantly, none of the other sheep had the same problem and it seemed to me that if one sheep has parasites, they all should. So I attributed Tiny's difficulty to her fiendishly clever ability to break into any place that has the food or goodies she loves--chicken food, black-oil sunflower seeds, and my gardens--but give her diarrhea.

At the same time I worked to tighten security, switching from bungee cord closures to chains, from chains to baling twine, etc. When I was certain she was finally locked away from everything, I checked her eyes again. Sure enough, this time when I pulled down her lower eyelid that inner lid was a pale pink. It was time for a dewormer.

The last time I'd used a dewormer on my animals I still had cows. It was an herbal mix that included cayenne, cloves, garlic, and a few other spices. As awful as it sounds, the package said it was good for fowl and all mammals, including humans. In the spirit of discovery, I gave it a try. It was horrible even if I mixed my dose into a cup of raw milk sweetened with my blackberry shrub. I held my nose and drank fast, and hated it except that it made me feel amazing.

So last week, I went online to find the same stuff and couldn't, which was disappointing. Then I realized I had a freezer full of spices. Hmm.

Was this something I could make myself?

I hurried to my favorite recipe book (Google) and did a search. Sure enough, I came up with mix that I thought was similar from a farm site where they also raise sheep. What caught my eye was the suggestion to make dosage balls with molasses. That seemed the perfect way to convince a sugar-addict like Tiny to take it.

I had most of the spices and herbs in my freezer or in the garden. I got the anise and psyllium at Mt Hope and found the wormwood online with free next-day delivery. The black walnut hull wasn't available for weeks, but after reading that it was dangerous for horses or pregnant animals, I decided to forgo it. This was, after all, an experiment. I figured the worst thing that would happen was the sheep would burp cloves and the parasites would live on, and I'd have to run to the feed store for a conventional dewormer.

That night I ground and mixed up spices. Note to self: when grinding cayenne peppers a mask is probably a good idea. Cough, hack. Even my nose burned.

The next morning I measured out the mixture and made the dosage balls for that day. I considered wearing gloves, then didn't. It wasn't necessary. This was gooey and nothing more. I went down to greet my unsuspecting sheep with a dose for both Tiny and Mari. The babies are still nursing so what their mamas eat, they get as well.

Tiny gobbled down her first dose. Yay! Mari sniffed and looked at me as if to say, "You've got to be kidding!" Dang.

That evening I came down with enough for both of them again. This time, Tiny turned up her nose and Mari turned her back. I was undeterred. I climbed the hillside and harvested Pakistani mulberries, then mushed the long sweet berries into the dose balls and tried again. That did the trick, but my hands were purple for a day afterwards. There had to be a better solution.

I tried more molasses the next day. They snapped up the morning dose and turned their back on the evening dose. Purple hands again.

The next day I looked in the cabinet and the light bulb over my head lit up when I saw the agave syrup. I added a drizzle over the balls and mushed it in. The result was very sticky--the doorknob of my barn door is still tacky-- but it worked! Even Mari didn't hesitate to snarf down her dose. That left little Rose looking up at me, wondering what she was missing.

That evening, I again coated the balls in agave, then had the even more brilliant idea to roll them in a little of the cracked corn I feed the chickens. You'd have thought I was offering them a bucket full of Pakistani Mulberries. Rosy demanded a bite and the other three lambs were crowding the fence, sniffing and begging.

It's been a full seven days now and Tiny's Scours are gone. I'll dose her again starting with the new moon for another seven day course as I'm told that's when the parasite eggs hatch. You know, I might just see what this stuff tastes like mixed with milk and shrub. I bet I still have to hold my nose.

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