(Written the day after my lambing placement)

So I have just returned for what has been an extraordinary fortnight of lambing. This was my first time even handling sheep so I was straight into the deep end dealing with over 900 ewes! I lived at Home Farm in Staffordshire with the wonderful MacKellar family, who very kindly allowed me to board and share meal time with them.

My not too shabby office for the fortnight

SAM_0711 My not too shabby office for the fortnight

The family originally showed cattle and James and Isobel met as friendly rivals in the showing world. Over 25 years ago they found the opportunity to rent the stunning estate, where James made the monumental decision to branch off from the family farm and he and Isobel set up their own livestock business. Farmer James built up the flock and ran the business alongside his wife Isobel , until more recent years where their son Bryce decided to pursue a main role in the business. Bryce chose this career path based on a childhood passion for sheep. James and Isobel still play a big part in the handy work; James is the semi-retired lamb-bourghini driver (or at least that’s what I called it) and Isobel is hot on tea duty and chief straw bale distributor. SAM_0720

The first task I was assigned upon arrival was bottle feeding the lambs, and already I felt elated towards the experience. The bottle fed lambs were cade/orphaned lambs who were usually taken away from their mothers either because she could not provide for them nutritionally (especially in a triplet or quad ewe) or they were being rejected by their mothers. These cades would receive a formulation of the whey – based milk source ProviMilk Shepherdess Ewe Milk Replacer with warm water at a 200g to 1L ratio. Throughout the experience the cades were fed at regular times throughout the day and checked on extensively between daily roles.

The hospital box for the lambs that needed a little extra help; the majority of in-patients had either hypothermia or watery mouth

The hospital box for the lambs that needed a little extra help; the majority of in-patients had either hypothermia or watery mouth

Bryce initially found that a lot of lambs were falling ill or even dying due to watery mouth/ rattle belly. This is a disease is most commonly in neonates between 12 – 36 hours old and can cause previously healthly lambs to become lethargic, limp, disinterested in suckling and dull. Unfortunately this would often lead to lambs dying. Bryce quickly deduced the epidemic to be caused by the ewe milk quality. He felt that confusion in tup markings alongside quite inaccurate ultrasound recordings had delayed ewes receiving the correct nutrition for the lambs they were carrying and thus colostrum deprivation for many lambs. This finding was fuel for the need for imminent attention to detail in checking each birthing pen. Several times I raced from pens with lambs in arms due to spotting profuse salivation, as this is a sure sign of the disease. Due to this very prevalent epidemic all lambs were then given Spectam oral solution within at least ten minutes. This contains Spectinomycin (dhydrochloride pentahydrate) which was an antimicrobial solution specifically to control E.coli enteritis.

It was incredibly fulfilling nursing limp and dull lambs back to peppy and cheeky mischief makers

Another prevalent problem in neonate lambs was hypothermia. This again may have been due to the insufficient level of nutrition provided in early gestation that had also been attributed as the cause of watery mouth in the lambing flock. These lambs were not getting the quality of colostrum required for sufficient metabolic heat production, and as they got colder this limited energy reserve was being exerted at an exponential rate (leading to fatalities were they not seen to quick enough.) I also saw some more unusual conditions such as entropion, and a congenital defect causing a lamb to have no rectal opening. The farmer more recently began vaccinating lambs with Scabivax for Orf; as this zoonotic disease can cause very painful lesions on the face, hands and forearm. When the ewe had bonded with her newly born lambs, we applied iodine to the open navals. Before bonding they could not successfully be moved to smaller pens, but this consequently left neonates at risk of infection from pathogens in the large lambing pens. Applying iodine dries up the naval, which eventually falls off the lambs. This prevented naval ill, which may have otherwise developed into ascending infection to involve the body cavity, liver, and possibly more generalised infection to involve the joint, meninges (brain), lungs, kidneys, and endocardium (heart valves.)

I also witnessed several problems in the ewes, such as a case of mastitis. On my second day in the barn I saw what appeared to be the uterine horns and or the bladder bulging out behind her. I had seen articles and images prior which led me to believe it was a early stage of a vaginal prolapse. This was in a mule with weaker abdominal and kegel muscle and thus little support on the pelvic floor, especially when carrying triplets. I disinfected my hands, put on an arm length glove and sheepishly grabbed the crook, harnessing my responsibility to ensure that the ewe was put into a safer position. I grabbed a harness and hoped that my practice with shoe laces around my desk chair would be sufficient in doing the real job. I caught the mule ewe and settled her away from the bustle of the flock before handling her. I started to bundle up the protruding organs and at this moment I knew I had to face the unknown. Applying lube to the glove, I slowly eased the tissues back in before securely fastening the harness around her body. Luckily this was detected early or else she would have needed veterinary attention such as Buhner suturing.

It was incredibly fulfilling nursing limp and dull lambs back to peppy and cheeky mischief makers! A lot of the cade lambs remained being hand reared on powder milk, then pellets, then eventually grass. For some of the stronger lambs, and should the recipient ewe have plenty of milk, we were able to foster them. This was often after the loss of one of the ewe’s own lambs. We fostered the cade lamb by rubbing the foetal membranes and bodily juices from the deceased lamb onto the cade lamb. This way, along with the strong hormonal influences after giving birth, the ewe accepted the cade lamb as her own. This not only benefitted the lamb in receiving a natural upbringing, but also allowed for an increased market value as cade lambs received less than lambs naturally raised.

Ewe know how to be a good mum; I loved witnessing such special bonding moments

I think true to the name the farm was a warm and welcoming home and for the duration of my stay I felt like part of the family. I cannot thank the family enough for allowing me, with no prior experience with sheep, to learn on the job and gain a very medically but also industrially based experience. I would love to do the experience again and attribute a lot of my desire to studying veterinary medicine to this placement.

What a B-ewe-tiful sight

SAM_0722 What a B-ewe-tiful sight



A week before Saturday 7th January 2017, I was thrilled to receive an email stating that I had the opportunity to obtain work experience with the animal zone team. I had never before had the opportunity to have an insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ work of a small animal zoo and was very keen to find out more about the animals housed there and the work that the staff did.

My placement began early on a chilly Saturday Morning, where I was greeted by the team leader Beth and her loyal animal-mad team. Andy and I were assigned to the rodent section on day 1. The daily roles involved feeding and cleaning the enclosures of the section assigned to you. This also involved overseeing the general conditions and behaviours of inmates to ensure that their wellbeing.

These rabbits were all penned based on their specific breeds and fed primarily on hay; which is essential for maintenance of their digestive tract in that gut movement persists and the risk of blockages or gastrointestinal statis is significantly reduced. They were also given a small portion of high fibre pellet to again assist gut movement. The rabbit, hamster, chinchilla and guinea pig haven had to be meticulously tidy prior to public opening.

Throughout my time on the placement I was rotated around each section of the animal zone – from the farm animal sector with Lisa, to the reptile room with Ben. I was able to assist the knowledgeable staff with their wildlife seminars and found their passionate attitude towards their section inspiring. The nocturnal room housed animals such as pygmy slow loris and fennec foxes; a rather unusual experience midday in Penkridge. I was able to interact with some peculiar and remarkable animals such as raccoon dogs; not actually closely related to the North American raccoon being in the Candiae family, and coatis who are in the raccoon family. I particularly enjoyed being on the primate section – the Geoffrey’s marmoset female in particular was very confident in sitting next to me and picking food from my hand whilst I was hiding stashes around the nooks and crannies of their enclosure.

The staff were very keen to maintain the animal’s emotional wellbeing by providing more natural environments with prolific methods of mental stimulation. They did this by sharing effective methods seen at alternative zoos, and researching natural behaviours of each species within the zoo. This was fantastic to see as I felt it contributed immensely to the thriving nature of the animal zone.

It was such a fantastic feeling being able to interact with these animals amongst wheeling manure mountains and hauling haynets around the yard. I met some familiar and very unfamiliar species whilst on the placement and thoroughly enjoyed being able to experience time with not only the animals but also the crazy and caring team who looked after them tirelessly.


Mo’s bilateral front leg lameness

So in recent months we have experienced a lot of interaction with Mo’s vet regarding her slight lameness in both forelegs. She only needs to wear shoes on her front feet (plus it is much cheaper than having all four.) Autumn of last year I had started to notice she was striding out fractionally less than usual in her natural over-track. Of course for any competitive discipline, the horse and rider need to feel on good form if they want any chance of getting in the ribbons! I like to address all aspect of weakness in our training in both myself and Mo, so was eager to find out what, if anything, was going on that may have caused this change.

Doing what we love most and feeling great doing it

Doing what we love most and feeling great doing it

We initially contacted her vets suspecting soft tissue in her front hooves (as she was throwing her shoes like slippers!) after advice from her farrier. She was assessed at the stables and showed to be 2/10 lame, and we were recommended admittance to the equine hospital for further analysis of her hooves. Although there were no imminent concerns, my vet is fantastically pro-active so we were quick to follow his advice.


She went over to Pool House Equine Vets on the evening of the 9th October 2016 to receive her examinations the following day. She underwent X-rays that confirmed our farrier’s suspicions of the soft tissue, as well as highlighting the presence of a slight downward rotation of the pedal bone (especially in the right fore.) This was very subtle and it was therefore difficult to make an accurate prognosis from this alone. Thus further, more in-depth analysis was required.

These X-rays also insured the absence of metal within the hoof walls after the front shoes were removed prior to her MRI scan (as iron is strongly magnetic and causes massive disruption to the MRI image.)  It was also necessary for Mo to be completely under sedation for this procedure, as she had to remain still throughout to ensure that it was conducted as safely and precisely as possible.

The report post-MRI was extensively detailed and I found it particularly fascinating to try and follow the analysis of the images by the specialists. A lot of this technical sciency analytical stuff is from Gil (Owner of the Pool House/ Senior Vet) and the MRI technicians, skills such as which I would love to mirror one day.


Prior to the scan the vets had administered a palmar digital nerve blocking agent in both of Mo’s forelegs. This agent desensitizes the medial and lateral palmar nerves found at the back of the pastern, and took effect on the areas that were being assessed; areas such as the distal region of the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), the distal sesamoidean impar ligament (DSIL), the navicular apparatus, proximal and distal interphalangeal joints (PIP/DIP) and palmar aspects of the distal phalanx (as well as other anatomical features within the distal pastern region.)

Below I have listed a few findings from the report

Left Fore

IMG_4135 IMG_4136 IMG_4134

Right Fore



Findings (Summary)

  • The mild capsular rotation of the distal phalanx and mild modelling of the distal tip of the distal phalanx are suggestive of mild chronic laminitis, however there is no evidence that laminitis is active in either foot and this is an unlikely cause of her lameness.
  • Swelling and loss of definition of the DSIL in both feet would indicate desmitis, the changes of which are likely to be caused by wear and tear from her previous career, and were unlikely to have any clinical significance to her lameness.
  • Remodelling of the navicular bone and mild distension of the navicular bursa (with fluid and soft tissue) would suggest mild navicular burstitis in both feet. Although present in both feet it showed to be seemingly more advanced in her left fore due to thickened synovial plicae of the bursal wall. However these changes are consistent with osseous/bone modelling as a result of bone stress or wear and tear (Inflammation of the coffin bone and navicular bursa)
  • (And the best part) The changes affecting the navicular bone are consistent with osseous modelling as a result of wear and tear. The absence of an STIR signal intensity in the spongiosa in either foot suggest that there is no active degenerative disease at this time, thus other changes are likely to be clinically insignificant.

Overall I found the experience immensely enlightening, although I am thankful that no drastic correctional measures had to take place With age such conditions can commonly be seen in horses. Thus I will be instilling preventative measures, such as upkeep of remedial shoeing, in the hope that these conditions do not exacerbate into active forms in the future.

UPDATE: Mo is now moving more freely than ever thanks to the incredible farriery she has received. She seems to be enjoying flaunting her designer shoes much more than my bank balance does! Saying this, I really am overjoyed with the improvement and although unfortunately her current insurance plan does not cover remedial farriery, I won’t hesitate to fund this seeing how beneficial the treatment has been.

It looks like this might be our year after all!!