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Pregnancy Disease

I am receiving a lot of questions about heavily pregnant ewes failing to eat and clinically depressed. In the broad definition, this could be determined to be pregnancy disease, probably not quite that simple. In my younger days, much younger and years ago I called it Iowa cornfield disease. Ewes were turned into a picked corn field and left to graze. They become overly fat and about the time they needed more nutrition to advance their pregnancy they were out of feed. Pregnancy disease is a result of ewes being too fat at breeding time and these fat deposits limit their rumen capacity and so they can’t meet their energy requirements in late pregnancy.

Sounds simple,  but not all ewes that go off feed in late pregnancy can be classified as typical pregnancy disease. They may have dead fetuses and are trying to abort, could have hydrops amnion, excessive fluid in one or more of the unborn lambs, maybe multiple fetus, more than ewe can handle, maybe old or in declining health and can’t nutritionally keep up. What I haven’t diagnosed that occasionally occurs in dairy cattle is hypocalcemia, I don’t believe it happens in sheep. The calcium solutions used to treat hypocalcemia in cattle contain dextrose and may be helpful in treating pregnancy toxemia. I like to use the words pregnancy toxemia, broader and inclusive.

Treatment: Standard treatment involves oral use of propylene glycol, 6 to 8 oz. twice daily and 1cc Banamine once daily. Injections of fortified Vit B complex may help. This is one situation where Banamine may have value, I believe it, for the most part, is overused but there was some work done in Israel a few years back that showed ewes treated with Banamine only had a higher survival rate than those treated with propylene glycol and other standard treatments. Dr. Jay Bobb suggests trying to get the ewe to drink milk replacer, very helpful if they will drink it. If it’s true pregnancy disease these things all help but treatment is often unrewarding. The use of Dexamethasone 10cc to end the pregnancy is the last resort, if very close to due date live lambs may be born. Dexamethasone does help with lung development in fetus. Once the ewe lambs, if she has had pregnancy disease I would give Dexamethasone which stimulates appetite and helps them to return to normal.

Prevention: Don’t allow ewes to be too fat at the breeding time. Meet energy requirements the last trimester of pregnancy. This will include feeding better quality hay, feeding half to a pound of corn a day and eliminating silage. Probably should be dry hay other than bailage. After they lamb rumen capacity is greatly increased and they can accommodate silage and bailage.  Hay should be in medium protein range, alfalfa grass combination ideal, dairy-quality hay prior to lambing can affect early milk flow. After they lambed is ok. Older and timid ewes should be fed as a separate unit. First-time ewe lambs should be managed as a separate unit until they lamb. If you are dealing with ewes that were allowed to become too fat you have to keep them that way because backing off energy requirements at this time will precipitate more problems.

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