There's some wonderful old words for some pretty basic nasties. Blood Rot - makes the mind boggle, what on earth could that be? Quite simple really, if you know that is....... Fluke, or ought I say liver fluke.
Okay........... so what on earth is liver fluke?
Well, a nasty little parasite known as a fluke which likes wet ground, gets ingested by both sheep and cattle and then heads for the liver and has a feast. Actually, it's not quite that simple a snail is also required to help the liver fluke with it's life cycle.
Any wet ground will be host to snails, although this is a specific snail which becomes host to the fluke but it undoubtedly likes any old wet ground just like other snails. These snails pick up the fluke larvae and are hosts until the larvae has grown. The larvae then leaves the snail and sits around on herbage at the wet spots waiting to be eaten by a sheep, once eaten the larvae finds itself in fluke heaven.
The fluke passes through the intestines and finds its way to the liver where it camps out, has a really good feed and being a hermaphrodite it does its own thing and lays eggs which get passed out of the sheep, hatch into larvae and get gobbled up by snails to start the cycle off all over again - very clever!!
So why Blood Rot? Well, one of the symptoms of fluke infestation is anaemia, this is so easily picked up on by looking at the whites of the eyes of a sheep. It pays to pull the bottom eyelid down to get a good view and should there be no sign or little sign of blood vessels in the whites of the eyes then you have an anaemic sheep and quite possibly blood rot or fluke. The mucous membranes around the eyes and mouth will also appear pale - not always so easy to pick up in the mouth as some sheep seem to have dark skin but for those that don't it is quite evident.
There are other symptoms - a poke may be noticed below the jaw. I bet that's got you scratching your heads....... When I was a kid I'd be given a poke of sweets, you could also get poke of chips at the chippy. Basically a bag is what a poke is and so the sheep may show a fluid filled sack under her bottom jaw, veterinary jargon would probably call it an oedema (I think).
There are many other signs of fluke infestation, many of which could be confused with other conditions as is so typical with sheep illnesses and diseases. If in doubt slit her open is what I say. Wait until she's died though!
A few years back there was a farm I was working on which had sheep getting lethargic, weak and badly thriven for no apparent reason. Then they died! One day when I was on this particular farm curiosity got the better of me, a poorly sheep showed obvious signs of anaemia and it quickly died giving me a chance to get the pocket knife out and delve around inside her. Ugh! It was 'orrible. I've seen many fluke in livers, usually having to slice the liver to find them but this particular sheep had a very pale liver which was over run with fluke easily seen with the naked eye - absolutely no need to slice away and investigate, they were there to be seen and still alive in this warm carcase - Ugh!!
A fluke is a funny looking thing, kinda oval in shape, the size of a finger nail and flat, oh! it's also a whitish colour with a dark mouth part if you look close enough - yuk! Fortunately I've never liked liver to eat or I may well have been put off. Don't worry if you do like eating liver though coz the inspectors at the abbatoirs will only allow healthy livers to be passed to the butchers, there is no fear of the man on the street eating a fluke infested liver.
So Fluke, Blood Rot, whatever you want to call it.......... what do you do about it? Oral drenching is the answer with a 'wormer' which will kill fluke, taking care not to cause a resistance to a specific chemical within the dose or there will be problems. Draining ground is also a great management tool as this decreases the wet holes for the snails to live in therefore denying the fluke its host.
Years ago a farm I herded on full time had a rusty old tin lived on the wall head of the byre (cow house), this rusty old tin held a thing called fluke capsules which I thought looked just like cod liver oil capsules. They looked like they had been there for centuries and were probably 30 odd years out of date but......... they still seemed to work. Should an individual sheep be found with what appeared to be blood rot I would administer one of these ancient capsules and lo and behold the sheep would find a new lease of life and rally.
The liver is able to regenerate itself but that will be dependant on the amount of damage it has suffered. The afore mentioned farm which was losing sheep took a couple of years to get the worst affected ewes back to a reasonable fitness, their livers must have taken a serious hammering.
Fluke is generally thought to be a winter problem, linked with wet weather and life cycles of snails. However a dry summer can be as bad as a wet winter. We're heading for a very dry summer, in fact Tarset is heading to be droughted off with only the hill ground thriving due to it being wet ground. This causes sheep and cattle to have to hunt for water unless there is a fresh supply in the form of a burn running through their ground. Wet, soggy holes are becoming watering holes and yes, you've got it, this can cause fluke to get a hold in the summer too.
I was in the Rede the other week gathering and I brought a ewe in on the back of the bike. She was too weak to walk in with the rest off the hill and laid down so I lifted her onto the back of the bike and gave her a lift. Her eyes were white and she had a poke under her chin - she had fluke which were feasting on her liver, if she's lucky a fluke dose may get her to rally it all depends how strong she can be in herself to rally back to some sort of health. "There's aye something"!
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