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How to help prevent prolapses in ewes

In this article, FRS explains how farmers can help prevent prolapse in flocks.

Many mid-season lambing flocks are getting ready to welcome the first new lambs to the farm.

One area that farmers need to pay particular attention to is the risk and occurrence of ewes prolapsing.

Vaginal prolapse is the most common, but uterine prolapse is also possible. This is a complex condition that occurs late in ewe pregnancy.

Teagasc states that shepherds should aim to keep this incidence less than 1 per 100 ewes.

However, it is not uncommon to see higher numbers within flocks.

There are several management factors that farmers should be aware of that could predispose ewes to the condition.

Nutrition

As ewes reach the end of their pregnancy, they increase the speed and efficiently of digesting food.

With lambs growing fast, this enables them to reach their nutritional requirements.

There are several factors that slow down digestion and can cause prolapsing issues. These include changes to their diet or long periods without access to food.

With concentrates, start feeding at a maximum of 200g per head and build up gradually.

If feed levels exceed 1/5kg per head, it is best to split feeding to twice daily, roughly eight hours apart. Introduce changes to concentrates gradually.

Housing

Ewes need plenty of space as they progress through their pregnancy. Space allowed depends on the breed of ewe. Teagasc states for larger breeds, a trough width of .6m is needed, and for smaller breeds, .5m is needed.

For facilities that may be tight on feeding space, the farmer could introduce extra troughs in the pen.

This may increase workload regarding feeding time but will reduce pressure and stress on ewes.

With housing, consider lying space. As a general guide, mature ewes need 1.2m – 1.4m of straw bedded space to themselves.

Exercise

Exercise is also a factor that can lead to ewes prolapsing. Having too much exercise or too little exercise can lead to complications.

If being housed, farmers should not overcrowd the pen or, if in the field, avoid large fields with steep slopes as ewes will gallop to trough at feeding time.

General health

Farmers must also be aware that issues with general health may also predispose ewes to prolapsing.

Risk factors include:

  • Prolonged lying down due to lameness;
  • Sub-clinical hypocalcaemia;
  • Acidosis.

It is important to check for and treat any underlying conditions the ewe may have.

If a ewe suffers from prolapse once, it is likely to reoccur with the next pregnancy.

Teagasc advises not to retain prolapsed ewes within the flock. They also add that ewe lambs from a prolapsed ewe should not be retained in the flock as there may be a genetic link.

Lastly, when farmers are tail docking, make sure to leave enough tail to cover the anus and vulva of the lamb.

Going shorter than this is also cited as a predisposing factor in vaginal prolapse.

Replacement of prolapse

Adhering to the above factors can help avoid prolapse. However, in some cases, it is unavoidable.

If it does occur, it is important to act fast and carry out good hygiene practices.

For mild cases, the farmer may be able to tend to the ewe, but it is important to seek veterinary assistance when the ewe is at risk for infection.

In severe cases, you may require the vet to administer an epidural to prevent forcing and allow for the replacement.

Flockwatch

A quarter of Herdwatch users are also sheep farmers. With this in mind, they have built a new dedicated sheep farming app, called Flockwatch.

Devised specifically for shepherds, this new app will help you keep up-to-date with farm paperwork and flock management.

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