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Handling Ewes that have Pregnancy Disease

By: Dr. Jay Bobb

Pregnancy disease is a metabolic disease that occurs in ewes late in pregnancy carrying multiple fetuses. Ewes carrying multiple lambs have less rumen capacity, and at the same time require an increase of 50-75% more calorie intake the last several weeks of gestation. Once a ewe gets pushed back from the bunk or misses a feeding, she starts to mobilize her body reserves for energy which produces ketones in her system. Early symptoms are subtle such as depression, unsteady gait, grinding of teeth, slow to get up and frequent urination. If you find a ewe early and separate her; get a high energy feedstuff such as molasses, corn or propylene glycol into her, and you can correct the blood sugar deficit rapidly. Usually, within six hours these ewes go down if left untreated.
Once a ewe has been down for over 24 hours the chance of getting her back up with any treatment is not likely. Once the ewe has been down for 24 hours you need to make some decisions; none of these are easy or have a good outcome. How valuable is the ewe? How valuable are the lambs? How long to the normal delivery date? Does the ewe have any appetite? Is the expense of a cesarean section an option?

If the ewe has a large amount of value; induce her to lamb using dexamethasone. Give 10 ml of dexamethasone and if she has not lambed in 24 hours give a second dose of dexamethasone. She should lamb within 24 hours of the second dose. Some ewes may require up to 36 hours after the second dose.

If the lambs have a large amount of value, you need to keep the ewe alive until within seven to ten days of her due date at a minimum. Within the last week of pregnancy, the lambs lungs will be normal. If the lambs are more than one week premature the lungs are not developed and most likely will gasp a few times and perish. If the ewe is strong and within one week of her expected delivery date; a cesarean section is a very good option. Usually, ewes and lambs do well with a cesarean section.

If the ewe has no appetite; induce her. If she has an appetite you can try and keep her going long enough to get live lambs. The main problem is that if you choose to induce the ewe it still requires from one to three days before she gives birth. If you wait too long to make the decision to induce you may end up losing both the mother and the lambs.

Once you have a ewe go down due to pregnancy disease be sure to evaluate all the ewes. Sort off any older, weaker ewes to a separate pen and increase their feed. Any ewes that are very heavy with lambs that are getting pushed back from the bunk should also be separated. I usually recommend that you should feed the entire flock another 10% grain if you are seeing pregnancy disease. Early management in pregnancy to keep the ewe from becoming too thin or overweight are important keys in controlling this disease.

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