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predator or something in the hay/

Spring Peep

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Hello, my four sheep suffered a really mysterious attack of some type last night. It's hard to prevent a repeat with so little that makes sense. I'm hoping someone has seen something similar and can help. I'm near Harrisburg PA and the sheep are in a rented pasture about 1/2 mile away. It is surrounded by woods and they have a two sided shelter.


When I stopped in to feed them hay this morning they looked like they had been rolled around in mud but then I saw it was a dark red (they are white-ish hair sheep) and their wool was coated lightly with dry blood. Their mouths (lips really) were all misshapen. The walls of the shed, at mouth level, were smeared with blood, especially where I feed them the hay. The sheep were shell shocked but ate a little hay.


I had to go to work but came home early. A woman I work with who has sheep said maybe there were thorns in the hay. I felt through the hay and raked out the hay that was fallen to the ground but didn't see anything. However I needed to work fast to add electronet fencing around the sheep so didn't get to closely examine the hay. But I did look at the sheep closely and there seems to be no injuries except on their mouths. I couldn't see any red gashes but by evening their mouths were even more swollen and their lips looked like they may have been slashed. They were kind of a crusty black and the swelling is uneven.


If this was a predator, what would just bite all of them in the face but not hurt them otherwise? Why wouldn't some of them run away? There is anecdotal talk of coyote maybe 3 miles away, but wouldn't a truly wild predator have done more damage/


The landowner said he has seen big possums. And also saw a big dog-like pawprint in the snow earlier in the week but now it was melted.


Could this be something in this bale of hay? The injuries appear deeper than what I would expect thorns to do plus there was so much blood on the walls (but not the floor) of the shed.


I can't close them securely in a stall (so as to exclude a predator) so I am really worried and hope the electronet will work.


Thanks, Debra

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It really sounds like there were briars in the hay. Sometimes if there's super good stuff in the middle of thorny stuff, this time of year the sheep will stop at nothing to get at it. My oldest ewe has a gash on her head which I finally figured out was from sticking through a hole where she could get at a yummy bush. :-/

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There may have been some weed in the hay that caused irritation in your sheep's (sheeps'?) mouths. That would explain the blood on the walls. They probably rubbed their faces on the walls trying to get rid of whatever was irritating them, and cut themselves up in the process. I've never seen it with sheep, but I've watched my horses mash their faces into walls when they got into a nasty weed in our pasture.

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Update: In the morning I did find thorns, large and small, in the hay, but then a local shearer, Marty, came up to help with the diagnosis, after reading my similar post on Sheepdog L.


On closer (and much more expert) inspection Marty showed me that it was big gashes in their mouths which couldn't have happened from thorns in the hay. it did look like a dog had bit them on their mouths. Why they didn't run I don't know. And apparently if it was a dog he wasn't trying to kill them since there are no other wounds. There aren't really bite marks, just rips that are now pretty scabby. He also noted that there were no sores that looked like sourmouth (and that sourmouth would not be accompanied by so much blood).


The walls of the shed are smeared with blood, all at or above the level of the sheep's heads. And there is blood all around the hay holder. Maybe the cuts opened up and bled. I've stopped feeding that hay since the thorns would be terrible in the gashes.


I have an electronet fence working more to keep out predators than to keep the sheep in.


Thanks for the suggestions!


Debra in Harrisburg.

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