Generally speaking, sheep do not make great pets. They tend to be afraid of humans and have a strong flock instinct so you have to keep several together.
There are exceptions; some breeds, when bottle fed by a human from the time they are babies, come to think of themselves as small, wooly people. One example is a miniature breed know as a Babydoll.
Stormie deCarlo had wanted to raise sheep for a long time, but had to wait until her husband retired from the military. Finally, three years ago, she got two Babydoll Southdown lambs for her birthday. She named them Miles and Jack. “When I was a girl in New Mexico,” says diCarlo, “I was in 4-H, and when my sheep didn’t make weight, my Dad put him in the freezer. I always wanted another one I could have to keep.”
The sheep joined a backyard family of three dogs, two cats and two rabbits. The whole menagerie gets along well, in fact, one of the dogs, a hound-mix named Lilly, likes to lick Miles’ ears. “Miles doesn’t mind, but when he has had enough, he butts her with his head.”
Last fall Jack became very ill and died of copper poisoning. Sheep owners beware: Copper is very toxic to sheep and can be found in some animal feeds. Also, the symptoms of copper poisoning often don’t appear until the sheep is already very sick.
Soon after Jack died, deCarlo lost her dog to brain cancer, so when Miles quit eating, deCarlo called her veterinarian right away. Dr. Moore referred her to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital at OSU. “It was heart breaking to lose Jack, then Lolita,” says deCarlo, “so I was going to fight to save Miles.”
At OSU, Dr. John Schlipf and Dr. Sarah Schale ran tests and found Miles to have increased pulse and respiratory rates, decreased red blood cell count, and blood analyses consistent with kidney damage: all signs of copper poisoning. They treated him with intravenous fluids, but when his anemia and kidney tests worsened, they gave him a whole blood transfusion. They also put him on diuretics to increase blood flow to the kidneys and increase urine production to flush out the copper and broken down red blood cells.
When Miles was still not eating, Clementine, a cow in the OSU teaching herd, stepped up to help. She is a fistulated cow who has a portal in her side to access her rumen (the largest of her four stomachs). Through this portal, the doctors obtained rumen fluid and fed it to Miles. Rumen fluid is full of beneficial microbes and nutrients that are good for sick animals. In the past, Clementine has donated to goats and other cows also.
After several days of intensive treatment, Miles’ kidneys improved and he began eating normally. He is still anemic but that should improve with time. He may have some permanent kidney damage but is back home and doing fine.
The long stay in the hospital with lots of TLC from students, technicians and doctors gave Miles a taste for attention. “He stays on the back deck and gazes through the sliding doors,” says deCarlo.
“We are so grateful the hospital saved him,” she says. “They worked so hard and were so very kind.”