Wednesday 6 January 2010

Rhododendron poisoning

'There's aye something'............. and it's rhododendron poisoning apparently for one farmer in the area.

The snow lies all around and the sheep are seeking something nice and green to chew on - who'd blame them? Shame they don't realise rhododendron is poisonous to their systems and will kill them.

Now rhododendron isn't exactly the sort of foliage you'd expect to find out on the hills, this particular hill ground has a rather grand 'estate house' built in its midst. I believe this manor was originally built as a shooting lodge and as befits most grand houses it has rhododendrons growing in its grounds.

Apparently the gated driveway to this lodge found its gate had been left open and the hill sheep, eager to explore and find a sweeter bite and kinder shelter trundled away down with great curiosity. Now they say curiosity killed the cat, however, in this instance it seems it's killed the sheep. Not all of them you'll be pleased to hear but some have indeed succumbed.

I'm not too sure that rhododendron would actually be a sweeter bite for the sheep but due to the fact it is an evergreen it would definitely be tempting and appear to be an easy meal for them in weather such as we are having at the moment. As it doesn't take many nibbles to cause the problem by the time the sheep decided it wasn't quite the palatable meal they had hoped for the damage would have been done.

Apparently within a handful of hours you'll have a poorly sheep, salivating and showing signs of bad guts and general ill health, a handful of hours later and they'll probably be dead.

I have to say that personally I have never met a sheep with rhododendron poisoning but I well remember being told the antidote by an elderly farmer when I was a kid. Seemingly, if the ailing creature is found in time, it can be dosed with strong tea, the tannin in the tea may well help to neutralise the toxins in the rhododendron and all being well the animal may recover.

The tea could be administered by way of a stomach tube, a tube through the mouth and down the gullet into the stomach, care has to be taken that the tube enters the stomach and not the lungs, otherwise drowning will become the cause of death. A traditional drenching gun could also be used, the sort you would use to orally administer worm drenches.

A dosing bottle can also be used. Years ago before drenching guns came on the market all sheep were dosed by way of a bottle, I still have one which I use occasionally. A wine bottle doubles up nicely as it has a long narrow neck which helps with the administration of the drench. Sheep do not have teeth at the sides of their mouths which is a great assess when using a bottle as you are not going to knock their teeth out getting the neck of the bottle into their mouths and towards the back of their throats. The bottle is tipped up and the drench allowed to run, it is necessary to give the beast a chance to swallow as again choking or drowning is not the required outcome. I always prefer to use a bottle if administering a larger amount of fluid to a sheep but everyone to their own, I'm not saying it is the best method, just works well for me.

When the Rhoddies are flowering in May you will undoubtedly see them in a different light and be warned, they aren't just poisonous to sheep........