Yesterday was a sad day. We lost two of our boys here on the farm - one unexpectedly. No matter how expected though, loosing an animal is always hard, especially if they are a cornerstone of your breeding program. With than in mind, this post will be a little reminiscing, a little saying good-bye and and little discussion on the effects this will have for our program long-term.
Gomez was the patriarch of our rabbit breeding program for years. He and his first lady-friend, Morticia (of course!) produced a number of healthy males and one daughter, our doe Wednesday who was the finest doe we've ever had.
Morticia passed before the homestead even became a reality, and Wednesday followed her last year. Gomez was removed from breeding as his age the available genetic pool became a problem, but was able to spend his gold years watching his grandchildren play. When he began to have mobility issues, we gave him a companion to help him with grooming and to keep him company. Up until the last day he was still able to move, eat and spend time cuddling with his lady, and his passing was swift.
Sometimes things in life hit you were and when you least expect. Flannan was only 15 months old and his passing was an absolute shock. He was being treated for - what initially appeared to be - a sprained leg. As the less-dominant male in the flock, Flannan began to get pushed out of the flock several weeks ago, so he and Goddard were separated into different pastures with the ewes we wanted them to breed this fall.
However, shortly after moving, Flannan developed a limp. It didn't clear up right away, so he was moved from the field to the barn where he seemed happy to be lying down and off his foot. He was urinating, pooping, his eyes looked good and his temperature was good - all the usual sheep signs of something major wrong.
However, he began to get worse. First his other hind leg got tired and he was seem laying down more and more. Then he stopped moving his hind end at all. Meningeal worm seemed a likely diagnosis to us and to the vet. We called the clinic office and got him an appointment. However, vet shortages being what they are it was three days before he could be seen.
He continued to eat and drink (with help) just fine, but was obviously not doing well. When we put him in the car yesterday morning he was weak but alert. I drove him out first thing and we waited in the car for the vet to open.
He died before they unlocked the doors.
Necropsy showed cause of death very quickly. He had bladder stones that had blocked up his system, but only intermittently - more like sand than stones. So he was still urinating when we moved him around to check him, but in between it was building up. When we stopped moving him, because we were afraid of spinal damage, it built up fatally. Based on the symptoms we couldn't have known, but it doesn't make it easier.
Where do we go from here?
Raising endangered livestock breeds - which are often hard to find - it can be a struggle to replace any animals we lose. This is especially true for the males of the program. Most livestock have an average of 50/50 males and females at birth. This means young males are considered more disposable, initially. However, most breeding programs keep fewer males than females, and the buck or ram is often referred to as half of the breeding program.
In our case, having Goddard means we still have the ability to breed for next year. However, since our conservation goals include finding new breeders for our livestock, we need unrelated males in order to produce breeding pairs to get them started. We are currently looking into a new male from New York, or possibly to borrow one this year and buy next year.
We don't want to get just any male though. While the timing of this means we can't be as fussy as we'd like, we still want high-quality stock.
For the good of the breed, our client and ourselves, we are better off taking a year off from breeding than providing sickly animals to our customers.
After all, when dealing with rare animals, those genes are likely to come back to us someday!