|Some small pellets, and creativity by Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) biologists, are helping keep Utah's bighorn sheep populations healthy and strong.
DWR biologists have been medicating bighorn sheep against parasites by placing small pellets consisting of alfalfa and a de-worming medicine into treats that are tempting to bighorn sheep, such as apples and hay.
The medication program happens in the winter, when natural food is scarce and bighorn sheep are willing to feed on unnatural foods. Biologists watch where the sheep have been congregating and then place several small feed piles in those areas.
The de-worming pellets do not harm sheep that might eat more than the rest of the herd, and the pellets are even beneficial to other types of wildlife that eat them, including deer.
The small pellets are about the size of the pellets that are fed to domestic animals, such as rabbits.
Bighorn sheep are susceptible to contracting several types of parasites, including a deadly bacterial pneumonia. This pneumonia can be transmitted among sheep and from a ewe (a female sheep) to her lamb shortly after the lamb is born. Through stress, environmental or climatic conditions, this bacteria is able to migrate into the lungs of the sheep, where it causes lesions that lead to pneumonia. Once infected with high bacteria levels, bighorn sheep tend to get very sick, and they often die by late summer.
Biologists Seeing Good Results
"I have been treating [with pellets] bighorn sheep around the Sheep Creek area near Flaming Gorge for about 10 years now and have seen a significant improvement in the survival rate of lambs," says DWR Wildlife Biologist Charlie Greenwood.
Greenwood and other DWR biologists are encouraged by the success of the program and will continue it with sheep herds in Utah that have lower lamb survival rates or lower population levels.
'Pellet Program' Moves to Utah County
DWR Biologist Craig Clyde coordinated a similar project in January with the bighorn sheep herd near American Fork Canyon.
Clyde recruited volunteers from the DWR's Dedicated Hunter program to cut apples into slices and then to hike up to the area where the sheep had been visiting. They placed about 20 small piles of hay and apples sprinkled with medicated pellets. Within a day, the sheep returned to the area and ate all of the piles of medicated treats.
Clyde plans to medicate as many bighorn sheep along the Wasatch Front as possible.
Bighorn Sheep Doing Well in Utah
Bighorn sheep are native to Utah. Several sheep have been transplanted to various areas in the state from many locations, including Montana, Canada and from southern Utah.
These proactive efforts will help ensure that Utah's bighorn sheep herds stay healthy and continue to flourish.
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