Looking after the ewe at lambing time

Pre-lambing preparation

Getting nutrition right in the last stage of pregnancy is essential. Ewe nutrition will directly affect the incidence of:

  • Pregnancy related disease
  • Colostrum quality and quantity and hence lamb disease
  • Foetal Growth in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy and wool deposition (More wool = Less Hypothermia)
  • Milk production and therefore lamb productivity

Ultimately nutrition is key to reducing disease and ensuring optimal productivity. Tools to assess nutrition in the late stages of pregnancy are:

Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring (BCS) your ewes will help you manage their nutrition (see figure 1). Identifying low BCS ewes early gives you time to make changes to their feeding before lambing .

Figure 1: Body condition score targets from AHDB 2017

Metabolic profiles

Metabolic profiling can be used along with BCS. It is a more immediate diagnostic tool for monitoring ewe nutrition in late pregnancy (3-4 weeks prior to lambing). The main purpose is to assess risk of twin lamb disease. Blood samples are taken to assess urea (BUN), an indicator of short-term protein intake and BHBs to assess ewe energy reserves.

Ewe diseases seen in the last trimester of pregnancy.

Ones to watch for:

  1. Twin Lamb Disease/Pregnancy Toxemia
  2. Hypocalcemia
  3. Prolapses

Twin lamb disease is a metabolic disease that occurs when the ewe’s nutrition is not meeting the demands of her growing foetus(s) resulting in low blood glucose.

Signs: separation from the flock, depression, star gazing, blindness, muscle tremors and collapse.

Treatment: oral solutions containing glucose and calcium, food, and water with electrolytes. Early treatment increases the chances of recovery. Unresponsive cases may need a c-section or euthanasia.

Hypocalcaemia is a low level of blood calcium due to an increased demand from the growing foetus and milk production.

Signs: wobbliness or lying down very still, dullness, increased breathing rate, a slight green discharge from the nose and bloat.

Treatment: oral calcium preparation (injectable Calciject is no longer available).

Prolapse is when the vagina is pushed out of the ewe’s vulva.

Signs: appears as a red mass, varying in size from a tennis ball to a melon! Prolapses can occur in the last month of pregnancy.

Treatment: prolapses should be replaced quickly to prevent further damage to the vagina. Early, small ones can be held in with a harness or retention spoon (spoons may increase risk of infection). Severe ones may need a Buhner suture – which should only be performed by a vet following administration of an epidural – essential to numb the area, reduces straining and eases replacement of the prolapse.

Ewe with prolapsed vagina

Care of the ewe during assisted lambings

Be prepared!

Have a checklist of everything you might need to assist a ewe with lambing.

  • Wear gloves
  • Use lots of lube

Both will reduce trauma to the ewe when examining ewes and correcting mal presentations.

Wearing gloves will also reduce the introduction of bacteria to the vaginal tract. If not wearing gloves, then clean hands properly – something we are all familiar with due to recent times!

Post-lambing care

Be kind to your ewes – TLC!

If a ewe has required assistance or the lambing has been difficult, tissues will have been bruised or torn, and there is a risk of infection in some cases. The ewe may be down for a while afterwards and/or unwilling to feed. TLC will go a long way to get these ewes up, eating and feeding their lambs.

  • Reduce pain and inflammation: use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
  • Offer plenty of water: to replace fluid lost drug lambing and ensure milk production. An easy way to ensure they have fluids is by using a ewe drencher
  • Provide clean comfy bedding
  • Assist lambs to feed to ensure colostrum intake.

If you would like any further advice please discuss prevention and treatment plans with your vet in advance. How can Westpoint help you this lambing season? We provide lambing courses, metabolic profiles, abortion investigations and investigations of lamb losses so do get in touch.

Written by Megan Harman Bsc BVetMed MRCVS, Westpoint Ashford.

This information on lambing is discussed in an episode of our VetPartners podcast ‘Vetspective for Vets’ which was released on 26th November 2020. Available on all good podcast apps.