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When do I need to intervene with ewe and lambs


herdcentral
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Hi, One of my 2 yo pregnant ewes has for the last couple of weeks been limping on a hind leg. She gets around okay but has been resting a lot, her condition is good - plenty of pasture and I have been leaving out pellets.

 

She lambed this morning and when I went out she was down and her lambs were cold and not particularly responsive. I got her up and she was banging at them with her hooves, she then wandered off to eat grass leaving them behind.

 

I got her into a round yard and bought the lambs to her. One was able to get to his feet the other wasnt. So I persisted in helping him as the ewe was just bashing him roughly with her hoof. She then went down. This went on for ages and both lambs were not doing so well, so with visions of more rejected lambs I got her on her feet and milked her colostrum, it was yellow from one teat and looked like normal milk from the other. I managed to get about 30 ml of the yellow colostrum into each lamb. Things then started to improve along with the warming sun. I got both lambs to their feet and mum seemed to accept them both.

 

However she went down again so I left her but after a couple of hours she wasnt getting up so I got her up again and this time managed to get both lambs sucking although the ewe kept moving off wanting to eat at the pasture in the yard. I gave her a good drink of water.

 

I noticed she is down again and am wondering about the lambs and their colostrum and their ability to be able to feed from her.

 

I was thinking of leaving them in the yard for the next couple of days where I can monitor the situation. I have visions of having to go out and get her on her feet so the lambs can suckle.

 

The whole thing is far from ideal. I guess I may have to start supplementing if this continues.

 

Any thoughts. I am very new to all this and my neighbours run thousands of sheep so they dont bother with a few losses during lambing so they are no help.

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I'd worry that the ewe has a health issue that is making her reject the lambs. It's not normal for a ewe to go down so much. You say the milk on one side looked like regular milk. Not real thin and watery or tinged with blood? Sometimes limping can indicate an udder problem (like mastitis), and this would be my first choice for what her problem might be. I'd also consider milk fever (hypocalcemia), although usually that will kill them within hours.

 

As much as bottle lambs are a PIA, I think I'd pull them and then see if I couldn't figure out what was going on with the ewe, but without having the stress of lambs on her and the stress of constantly checking them and forcing her to allow them to nurse on you.

 

Hopefully someone with more experience with such issues will comment.

 

J.

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I'd worry that the ewe has a health issue that is making her reject the lambs. It's not normal for a ewe to go down so much. You say the milk on one side looked like regular milk. Not real thin and watery or tinged with blood? Sometimes limping can indicate an udder problem (like mastitis), and this would be my first choice for what her problem might be. I'd also consider milk fever (hypocalcemia), although usually that will kill them within hours.

 

As much as bottle lambs are a PIA, I think I'd pull them and then see if I couldn't figure out what was going on with the ewe, but without having the stress of lambs on her and the stress of constantly checking them and forcing her to allow them to nurse on you.

 

Hopefully someone with more experience with such issues will comment.

 

J.

 

The milk didnt appear to have blood in it, it was white in colour, the other side was thick yellow colostrum. The ewe did get up and I let her out of the pen and kept an eye on her. She did go down again so I got her back up and then she seemed to stay on her feet and her lambs were following her. The bigger one that was so weak and unable to find his feet - seemed to have found his feet although he still looks a bit out of shape. Maybe because she had been lying down so much leading up to the birth I was wondering if he may have been squashed a bit in the uterus.

 

It is night now and they are out in the paddock so best I can do now is see what awaits me in the morning.

 

It certainly has not been plain sailing. Interesting about the mastitis making them limp. I will have a closer look in the morning.

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Take the ewe's temperature. Does she have a temp? Is her bag warm, red or hard/lumpy? If so, she might have mastitis. In that case I'd medicate her with a pain killer and antibiotic as prescribed by your vet. In any case, I'd probably pen this ewe with her lambs. I keep lambs unless absolutely necessary with their mothers. Many times, if you can get them through a litle bump, you can prevent them from becoming bottle lambs. Bonding, in my experience, requires interaction between the ewe AND babies. Some ewes will give up on babies that do not respond. And if the mother was initially down, the babies may have not nursed soon enough, gotten cold and then not "acted right" once she was up. And I'd probably supplement for a day or so (with s much colostrum as ppossible) until the lambs seem to be nursing. Once the lambs are warm, they should start trying to nurse and then a good mother, if she's sound, should start mothering. You'll probably also want to watch closely for milk fever, as Julie mentions and, if she shows neurological/miuscular signs or stops eating, I'd suggest calling the vet or someone more experience with sheep to help you decide what to do.

 

Kim

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I had to go into the city today so was away for about ten hours. I checked in the dark before I left and both lambs were with the ewe who was down. Just got back and the ewe was in a different part of the paddock lying down with both lambs snuggled up against her. I have the next week home on the farm so I can keep a good eye on if the lambs are feeding enough and supplement if things dont look good.

 

When I milked her, her udders seemed cool and she wasnt in any pain. Fortunately she is a very placid ewe although at 2yo a comparitively inexperienced mother I guess and there is definitely something wrong with her hind area so will check her udders again. She seems to be eating well but will take her temp although I have no idea what is normal for a ewe.

 

I think forcing the lamb onto its feet and making it walk and getting some colostrum into it was probably the right thing to do in retrospect. The hooves kept curling over as if it had nerve damage but I kept forcing it to stand, putting its hooves in the right position and massaged it as well. I think the ewes placid nature alo helped as she didnt freak at my prescence in the whole drama.

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I have occasionally had ewes go down in late pregnancy because of what I assume is some type of nerve compresion. Once the lambs are born the mother eventually stands. This is not repeated in future prenancies. Again, what I try to do is make sure the babies have enough colostrum and the mother takes care of them once she is standing, although peristent babies and good mothers will nurse babies lying down. Sounds like your group is well on its way.

 

Kim

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I have occasionally had ewes go down in late pregnancy because of what I assume is some type of nerve compresion. Once the lambs are born the mother eventually stands. This is not repeated in future prenancies. Again, what I try to do is make sure the babies have enough colostrum and the mother takes care of them once she is standing, although peristent babies and good mothers will nurse babies lying down. Sounds like your group is well on its way.

 

Kim

 

I am wondering if this nerve compression was indeed the problem. Unfortunately the lamb I fought hard to save was dead this morning and the other very weak. So I am doing as you suggest. The ewe is standing now okay. I got her into the yard and I milked a stack of colostrum from her and fed the remaining lamb about 100ml. I have milked more and I will feed him untill he is strong enough. He suckles strongly on my finger but isnt so good on the ewes udder, he seems to give up and she moves off. The ewe is not a particularly attentive mum and wants to move off to graze. She recognises her lamb okay but doesnt seem to know what to do. I figured if I can get the lamb strong enough he will be able to cope. He is a fighter I think as he has made it this far while the bigger lamb succumbed.

 

Although he makes pretty feeble attempts at the teat, sort of gets it in his mouth and then spits it out. Not sure how this is going to end. I will keep milking the ewe and adding a little formula to make up the quantity. She keeps bashing him with her hooves when he is lying down to make him get up. I think she thinks he is dead. This morning she was looking for her other lamb after I removed him.

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Is the lamb warm? What is its temperature? How much are you feeding? The lamb should take about 4 Oz every 3 hours. If it's not taking this amount, you'll need to tube feed it. Are you giving colostrum? What do its stools look like? Did you vaccinate the mother prior to delivery with something like Covexin? If not, I'd probably give scour-halt..

 

ETA: If the ewe is too rough with the baby, I'd probably pull the lamb, at least for a short while while you try to "pull it through."

 

Kim

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Is the lamb warm? What is its temperature? How much are you feeding? The lamb should take about 4 Oz every 3 hours. If it's not taking this amount, you'll need to tube feed it. Are you giving colostrum? What do its stools look like? Did you vaccinate the mother prior to delivery with something like Covexin? If not, I'd probably give scour-halt..

 

ETA: If the ewe is too rough with the baby, I'd probably pull the lamb, at least for a short while while you try to "pull it through."

 

Kim

 

Yes it was a hot today and I have just checked on it at near midnight under the full moon to give it a feed and mum has it in a shed protected from the breeze and it seems warm. I have been milking the ewe every couple of hours and getting about 1 OZ of colostrum which I have been giving the baby. I then get about another 2 Oz of formula into it. I dont have a tube but find it will suck my finger and I run milk down it with a syringe. I have tried a rubber teat but it is not very good with it. I havent seen it produce a stool yet but based on my other rejected lamb that has been scouring a little but still doing very well, I would expect that most likely.

 

My local store doesnt have any supplies for lambs, the farmers here all run thousands of sheep and dont bother with a few losses. During lambing period earlier this year for Merinos, I had quite a few lamb corpses strewn across my property dragged there by foxes from the neighbouring paddocks.

 

The vet is a couple of hundred kms away but I need to go into the regional centre tomorrow so will try there for scour halt if lamby survives the night.

 

Thanks for your advice. Next time I am going to be better prepared.

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You might want to consider bringing the lamb in the house in a dog crate. That way you will know he's is kept warm and you will be able to feed him more easily. Since you have to go into town anyway, why not bring the lamb with you and let the vet have a look. He might need an enema if he hasn't passed the malconium (that black tar like first stools) by now. Taking him into the vet might just save his life.

 

I've had quite a few bottle babies as has my friend who breeds, and we always intervene in a situation like this and make sure the baby is kept warm enough and getting enough to eat, especially during those first few critical hours, and until we know the ewe is able to feed and the lamb is able to nurse. In fact my friend did have a ewe with nerve compression, she was unable to even get up for the first couple of days. I helped her move her into the barn into a small pen and we put her lambs in with her. She supplemented the lambs with the ewes colostrum and a lamb milk replacer as we were unable to milk enough out of the ewe for a meal. She also kept a heat lamp on above the pen so the lambs could move into the warmth.

 

We only have small flocks, mostly for fiber, so are able to keep a closer eye on at lambing time, and will readily bring a sick or weak lamb in the house, or if it looks like mom is unable or unwilling to care for it.

 

Best of luck with your little one. Hope he makes it.

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One easy way to tell if the lamb is warm (you can't go by air temperature) is to put your finger in its mouth. If the mouth doesn't feel warm to your finger, then the lamb is cold. A cold lamb can't suck, and it starts a downward spiral. I've brought lambs back from near death, but to do so, you pretty much need to bring it in, put a heat lamp on it and tube feed it. The one bottle lamb I had this spring was 3 weeks old when she went down. She was a triplet and was being pushed out by the other two, which is why she was as old as she was. I had a heck of a time getting her to take a rubber nipple and had to tube her for a couple of days. That was no fun--she was strong enough to fight the tubing like a little wildcat, but wouldn't drink from a bottle. After going the rounds with her time and again, I finally told her she could take the bottle or die. And she started nursing, lol! I always make sure to have a tubing kit, including a 60 cc syringe, and Pritchard teats before lambing.

 

J.

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That's not really a lot of milk that you're getting from the ewe . . . I would expect to get more so the mother may have a problem - maybe she had mastitis in the past - and this might be the underlying problem.

 

If you've been feeding the lamb every couple hours and it's getting weaker, I suspect you've (now) got something else going on. The reason I suggested the scour halt, which some may disagree with, is that I find that if my lambs are stressed and they don't receive enough colostrum, they tend to scour and die. If I start the scour halt early, I tend not to run into this problem. Often the anorexia precedes the scours (and a sudden drop in temperature signals impending death). Another problem we've got in my area is selenium deficiency, which also can also lead to weak lambs.

 

Can you ask someone local to come and look at the ewe and lamb? Even if they let "nature take its course" (as many large farms here do), they'll still probably be able to look at the ewe and lamb and give you an opinion. Learning when to intervene is really an art (IMHO) rather than an exact science and is best achieved at the side of someone experienced (or happens as you gain experience).

 

Also, you *will* want to develop a good working relaitonship with a vet (to obtain prescription meds or even consult over the phone). At least in my area of the U.S., few vets specialize in sheep. I think *they* appreciate, and I definitely appreciate, having local people who I can bounce ideas off of and share experiences. But I see that you're in Australia so maybe this is not the case.

 

I hope things have gotten better when you read this message.

 

Kim

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Today I have managed to get about 100ml (3.5 Oz) from the ewe each milking but it is hard work from one side which doesnt yield much. She is a cull ewe from a neighbour who gave her to me, so there may well be a reason, although he mainly culls on horns as he is breeding towards polled Wiltshires.

 

I find his mouth is warm when I start feeding but is cool towards the end. He is lying in the sun mainly. I think he must have got really chilled the first 2 days he was with the ewe and I was away and she was down. He tries to make an attempt to suck on mums teat but doesnt quite seem to have the energy although he will suck very strongly on my finger when I feed him and will take quite a lot of milk this way. He wont have a bar of the rubber teat. I have been a bit worried about the chill factor.

 

Today so far I have got about 10 Oz of mothers milk into him and the same in milk replacer. I could take him inside but the problem is I have some very long days at work coming up and they are such that I cant take him with me, which is why I have been persisting with his mother in the paddock.

 

Se shouldnt be a problem here and the milk replacer has selenium in it too. The surrounding farmers just laugh when I tell them about my lambs. This area is mainly cropping and sheep are an unfavourite sideline to make use of the stubbles really. The droughts have seen many farmers get out of sheep and they generally dislike them.

 

I realise now that I need to be much better set up and have various supplies on hand to deal with these situations.

 

I think there are specialist sheep vets further south in the "sheep belt", but not around here. Most people simply dont interven andunless the problem is a large scale threat they generally let nature run its course.

 

On his next feed I will check his temperature and decide what I need to do. I will also try and check out what he is passing.

 

Sometimes he seems quite perky and others he seems totally unmotivated.

 

Just went out to check his mouth and it is nice and warm.

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