Stuck in the Barn

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Looking over the field carefully, I could see the guard dog with sheep in the far corner. He had stood up when I pulled into the driveway, and he was watching me now. He was a large Great Pyrenees and a large one at that. He towered over the sheep who were grazing around him.

Jim had called earlier, asking me to check a ewe in the barn which had lambed last night.

“I just don’t like how she is acting this morning,” Jim said. “I don’t have time this morning to check her. I have a meeting this morning that I can’t miss. I should be home by early afternoon.”

“Is she straining any?” I asked. “I guess she might have another lamb.”

“I don’t know,” Jim said. “She is the only ewe in the barn, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding her. My one concern is you might have a problem with our guard dog. He is pretty protective of his flock. But the barn is closed up. I don’t think he can get in there. Just remember to close the door behind you when you go inside.”

“Do you think he would bite?” I asked.

“He is extremely protective of his sheep,” Jim said. “He hasn’t bit anybody, but I would use some caution. I wouldn’t trust him if I’m not around.”

I poured a bucket of warm water and gathered my stuff. I glanced at the dog. He had changed his position and taken a few steps toward the barn. He started toward the barn at a trot when I went through the gate. I hurried through the door and latched it closed after I was inside.

The ewe was penned with her lamb in a small pen fashioned from four panels that were lashed together with baling wire. The ewe looked like she was still discharging some fluid but was not straining at the moment, and the lamb was doing well but working on her udder.

I grabbed a rope sheep halter hanging on a nearby hook and climbed into the pen with the ewe. 

Sheep always seem easy to work on, but it is a mistake to think of them as small cows. Sheep are born looking for a place to die, and if one is looking like she isn’t feeling well, she needs to be treated aggressively.

With a bit of struggle, I finally got the ewe haltered and tied to a corner of the pen. I leaned over the panel and grabbed my bucket and my bag. As I leaned over, I could hear a low growl. The guard dog was eyeing me through the crack in the barn’s side door.

My first chore was to take care of the ewe. Then I was going to have to figure out how I would escape from the barn.

When I took the ewe’s temperature, it was actually a little low. I cleaned up her rear end and did a vaginal exam. Her cervix was starting to close, and there was no apparent content in the uterus. I inserted a nitrofurazone bolus into the uterus just to be safe.

Then I palpated her udder. The right side was soft, and the lamb had drained its milk. The left side was hard and cool to the touch, and the teat was slightly purple. I stripped a little bloody fluid from the teat. 

The ewe had acute mastitis, and she could lose the left side of her udder. Plus, this could be a life-threatening infection.

The teat was still viable. Otherwise, I would amputate it to provide some drainage. I instilled a couple of mastitis tubes into the infected side of the udder and loaded the ewe up with antibiotics. I would make a point to stop by tomorrow and recheck her. Hopefully, Jim would be home then, and I would not have to deal with the dog.

Now, how was I going to get back to the truck without having a dog attached to my rear end?

I packed everything up and set it by the front door. I went to the side door and rattled it. A loud growl said the dog was still there. 

I looked around the barn. A typical sheep barn with a maze of little pens. It looked like I could let the dog in the back door, run to the front door, and make my exit before the dog could get through the maze of pens and panels.

I went to the back door and rattled it. It only took the dog a moment to be there. Leaning over a pen, I slid the door open just enough for the dog to get his head through the opening. He looked at me and growled. These dogs seldom barked.

I headed for the front door, and the dog struggled to get through the back door. He finally pushed through the door just as I reached the front door. He was confused for a moment, not knowing if he wanted to go out the door and around the barn or work through the pens to get me. I waited for him to make a decision.

When he jumped over the first row of panels, I exited the front door in a hurry. I was loading things into my truck when the dog tore back around the barn and ran up to the gate. I knew he wouldn’t leave his pasture, but he growled enough to tell me that I was not going to get back through the gate.

When I got back to the office, I called and left a message on Jim’s answering machine that I would check back in the morning and that the ewe had severe mastitis. I also suggested that he should supplement the lamb for a few days.


The guard dog came running as soon as he saw my truck. I was lucky that Jim was waiting at the open barn door.

“She is feeling a lot better this morning,” Jim said as I stepped out of the truck. “She is eating and paying attention to the lamb. And you were right about the lamb. That little guy drained a bottle last night in record time.”

“Well, it must mean that I used the right antibiotic,” I said. “Let me grab a couple of things, and I will be right there. That dog doesn’t particularly care for me.”

“Yes, he is pretty protective of his sheep,” Jim said. “But he is fine when I am here.”

Jim pointed back to the flock in the middle of the pasture and told the dog to “go home.” The dog hesitated a bit but turned and headed back to his flock.

The ewe was definitely feeling better. The discoloration on the left teat was gone, and the side of the udder was soft and warm on palpation. I stripped as much milk out of the left side as I could, and it actually almost looked like milk.

“I’m a little surprised, Jim,” I said. “Had you been here yesterday, I would have told you that I thought she would lose this half of her udder. Now it looks like it will heal up fine.”

I squeezed a couple of mastitis tubes into the left teat and repeated the antibiotics I gave yesterday.

“I will fix you up with some injections to give her for a few days,” I said. “And I want you to infuse one of these mastitis tubes into her left teat once a day. You should  strip as much milk as you can out of that side of her udder before infusing the tube.”

“What about the lamb?” Jim asked. “Can I let him go ahead and nurse on her?”

“I think he will be fine left with her,” I said. “As long as you strip out the left side of her udder once a day and supplement the lamb with a bottle morning and night, he won’t bother that left side much until it gets back to giving good milk. I’ll give you a call in a few days. I would expect her to be pretty much back to normal by then. She will probably lose some milk production in that left side. That is typical in cows with mastitis and probably true in sheep. Just keep track of the weight of her lamb at weaning to see if she is keeping pace with the flock.”


When I called three days later, the ewe was doing well.

“When I stripped out her left side this morning, it looked as normal as the milk on the right side,” Jim said. “I would like to turn her out with the others if you think that is okay?”

“Yes, I think that is fine,” I said. “Just remember to keep track of her lamb and make sure he grows like the others.”

Photo by Tychon Krug on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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