You can tell a lot about the health of an animal by what comes out the back end. One of our woolly teddy bears, Witchy, has always produced dung more on the squishy side. It sticks to the wool around her tail and is a magnet for flies. During the summer we give her bottom plenty of haircuts to keep her feeling clean and fresh and prevent flystrike.
From what we’ve observed as smallholders, if young animals don’t get a good start in life, health problems will pop up down the line. We’re certain that Witchy’s bottom problems are down to an imbalance of gut bacteria due to a period of stress she suffered as a lamb, (click here to read Witchy’s story). We made a lot of mistakes when we started out ten years ago and unfortunately Witchy’s wobbly first couple of days was down to our inexperience as novice smallholders.
Fast forward to now and Witchy is a fully grown sheep and seven years young. She’s the sweetest thing and we feel very lucky to have her in our flock. She seems happy and content, but her digestive issues have always been a background worry.
Over the years we’ve tried her on probiotics and kaolin powder, but nothing has helped. Witchy’s bottom has just carried on doing its thing and we’ve carried on trimming her and keeping her clean.
Now that she is getting older, we’ve noticed she doesn’t do as well in the winter. Last year she lost condition and her lower eyelids were a bit pale suggesting a nutrient absorption issue.
This year, as winter approaches I thought I would try something different. I had recently read about something called ‘cud transfaunation’, an old shepherding technique to help ruminants with digestive problems. Just like us, sheep need a healthy gut microbiome in order to work properly. Cud transfaunation basically means to take the cud and accompanying microbes from the mouth of a healthy sheep and pop it into the mouth of the sheep needing help. (Obviously making sure it is swallowed).
I was pretty excited to do this I can tell you! On Monday I brought Witchy into a pen along with Yaar and Yogi (the two doners). My plan was to swill the doners’ mouths out with warm water using a large syringe, capture the swill (and hopefully lots of microbes) in a bucket and then transfer it over to Witchy. The reason I decided to have two doners was purely to increase my chances of capturing microbes.
From what I’ve read you can do either the ‘swill method’, or the ‘cud grabbing method’. If you manage to grab a nice handful of cud there’s probably more chance of capturing lots of microbes however scooping out cud comes with risk of losing a finger so I decided to go with plan A. If plan A doesn’t work, then I’ll enlist the help of Adrian and try getting hold of some cud. You put the cud in a bucket with a little warm water, break it up with a fork so it resembles sloppy soup and then give it to the sheep before it cools down.
The most important thing I had to remember was to make sure everything was sterile, and to keep the swilled out water at sheep temperature so the microbes didn’t die off before I got them into Witchy.
I lined up my equipment on a nearby wall so I had everything within reach. I had with me: a thermos flask filled with sheep-temperature water (38.3 – 39.9’c) to do the mouth swilling, a sterile bucket to capture the swill and a large syringe to draw up the swill from the bucket and transfer into Witchy’s mouth.
I didn’t get much swill but hopefully enough. It looked slightly green and had a bit of a slimy look to it. I’m hoping it contained plenty of bacteria. Giving it to Witchy was easy, I popped it into her mouth using a large syringe and she swallowed it straight away, phew!
The trickiest part was to make sure I kept Yaar and Yogi’s heads down as I swilled their mouths out to stop them from swallowing the warm water. It was also quite hard keeping the bucket under their chins whilst I was doing this. They were very keen to stick their noses in the bucket, they love buckets, especially green calf buckets.
Hopefully I captured enough microbes and they’re setting up home in Witchy’s gut and she’ll have an easier winter. However the proof will be in the poop … I will keep you updated with how she goes.