Molasses faceTwo cases this week! The one bit of fallout from my farm sitter debacle was a ewe that stopped eating the Thursday following the weekend of missed feedings. She is one of my purchased ewes from Missouri, so I will be extra bummed if anything happens to her or her lambs. She looks bigger than most of the ewelambs, so I suspect she is carrying twins or triplets. She is also carrying a lot of condition, with a BCS of about 4.5. Fat ewes are at greater risk of pregnancy toxemia than ideally-conditioned ewes, ironically; as they are more likely to start mobilizing fat reserves to feed the lambs, and kick themselves into ketosis.

I am feeding all my ewes grain in the evenings, to support them through the most trying part of their pregnancies. Of course they always eat it with aggressive vigor and competitiveness; so when this ewe showed disinterest, I was immediately concerned. Her ears were droopy and she did not perk them up in response to things happening in the environment, always a sign of a sheep that feels poorly. I noticed she was wanting to stand with her front end elevated, hiking herself up on the lower rails of the pen.

Feeling poopyKetosis was definitely a prime suspect because of her pregnancy load, body condition, and the missed feeding incident. But, this propping-up also made me wonder about bloat, pneumonia or acidosis. Something  bothering her stomach or lungs, where elevating her front end would make it easier to breathe, or would shift the contents of the rumen away from the valve leading to her esophagus, to make it easer to eructate. I am not sure whether this ewe is one that got out of the pen while we were gone, so it’s possible she also over-ate on alfalfa, or even got into the grain sacks, and gave herself acidosis or other digestive upset.

Often, I think, when sheep are sick enough to go off feed, more than one thing is compounding their problems. So, I treat for everything I can think of, when I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ve learned the hard way that a sheep that’s off feed, or is down, is likely already 80% dead. So, there is no “wait and see” or “wait ‘til I get home from work” – treatment must be started immediately. Even if that means I’m late for work, late for dinner, or what have you. It’s critical to get them back to eating and standing as soon as possible. Fortunately, this ewe was still “up” but there was definitely something wrong.

So, I gave her antibiotics to address any pneumonia or intestinal bacteria proliferation. For potential ketosis, I started stuffing her with molasses, liquid nutrients and minerals; and gave vitamin B shots to stabilize her digestion and stimulate appetite. And for acidosis, I included Pepto Bismol in the mix, to soothe the stomach and bring up the pH. Acidosis is especially tricky, because if the lining of the rumen is peeling off due to damage, they aren’t gonna want to eat any roughage, nor will they be able to digest it well. So, the best help you can give is enough liquid nutrition that the “true” stomach can use, to hopefully buy time for the rumen to repair itself. Dicey in any circumstance, but worse in late pregnancy.

As days went by with still not eating or ruminating, I added more arsenal: stuffing her with a cooked oatmeal slurry, spoons full of kelp for a very digestible mineral source, and finally some juices from my Bubbie’s brand sauerkraut, which contains probiotics from salted brine fermentation. This activity is messier than feeding a baby, molasses and oatmeal get all over me, and the sheep! But, I do manage to get them to swallow a reasonable amount, despite the battle of wills.

Eating wellOne good sign was she was hard to catch and full of plenty of fight during her feeding sessions. It took a full week of twice-a-day forced nutrients before I saw her nibbling idly on some alfalfa hay chaff on the floor. By day seven, she reversed, and started chewing her cud again, and eating hay and fresh-picked greens with enthusiasm. The 8th day, she was willing to eat her grain again. There is no sight more pleasing that a ewe bringing up a bolus, and pooping and peeing, after a hiatus of all three! Now, two weeks later, she seems OK, is back to eating well and doesn’t seem to need any supplementation. I will have to watch her like a hawk until she lambs, however.

Prolapse

Last Tuesday I came home to a ewe with a good-sized vaginal prolapse. This girl is age two, and had also prolapsed last year as a yearling. She came in a batch of ewes I bought from a friend getting out of sheep, with full disclosure about the previous prolapse. We discussed her fate, whether she should just be slaughtered immediately. But, my friend had acknowledged they hadn’t had the best management in the last year, due to her transitioning away from livestock husbandry, and while they had stayed at another friend’s house part of the time. So, we agreed I’d buy her at butcher lamb price, and give her another run; hoping it was a one-time event due to environmental factors.

When I saw her from a distance with her tail sticking out at an odd angle, it clicked in my mind immediately that this was the ewe. A closer look revealed a grapefruit-sized section of uterus protruding out of her back end. I got a dog, caught the ewe and haltered her, loaded her up in the ATV trailer, and brought her in the barn to put her uterus back where it belongs! I made good use of my head stanchion to keep her contained. This allowed her some distraction eating grain during the process.This, she managed to do the whole time, except at the moments when I was pushing her internal organs back in, which triggered contractions and caused her to beller. I found it helped to elevate her back end on a sealed bale of shavings; I roped her feet to the fence to keep tension on them and keep her in place. I didn’t make her stay that way long enough to take a picture, but here’s what it looked like right afterwards:

I set up an inverted bucket for me to sit on, threw my supplies in a second bucket, and prepared a third bucket of lukewarm iodine water, which I used to keep my gloved hands and the prolapse retainer sanitized; and to gently sponge off the crud on her tissues before I pushed them back in. I used OB lube to help it go back in. A few minutes of persistent pressure replaced it, then I inserted the retainer “spoon” and strapped her into one of Premier’s prolapse harnesses. Within 15 minutes, she was back to pigging out on hay, no worse for wear! Sheep are so tough… I followed up with antibiotics, because it’s impossible to avoid a lot of bacteria getting pushed back into the vaginal cavity, despite best efforts to clean everything off. Plus, Banamine, for swelling and pain. Here’s hoping the fetuses are OK, but I bet they will be. She is due in 5 weeks.

After three days, I took out the retainer spoon and just left the harness on her. The only challenge I’m having with the harness is getting it adjusted just right, so that it doesn’t accumulate poop. She’s got some diarrhea, maybe triggered by the stress of the prolapse, and then now by the rich alfalfa she’s accessing in the barn. I’m hoping that when her poop turns back into pellets, it’ll clear the  harness better. This is the first time I’ve had occasion to use the harness, and it works really well! It straps on and adjusts easily. The idea is, if she gets back into contractions and straining, as she leans forward, it puts pressure on her back end, keeping internal things from becoming external!

A second incidence of prolapse does imply this ewe has got a flaw which makes her vulnerable to this condition. So, her lambs will just be earmarked for the butcher channel this year, regardless of sex. I’ll probably likely butcher her as well at summer’s end. A hard decision, as she’s a very friendly and nice-looking ewe, in the prime of life. But, the likelihood of her suffering from this in the future, and possibly losing the life of her lambs or herself is higher, so probably not worth the risk.

So, for now, all is quiet again! Knock  on wood it’ll be smooth sailing until lambing in April!

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