Metabolic diseases at lambing

The most common metabolic diseases that present around lambing are Pregnancy Toxaemia (also called Twin Lamb Disease) and Hypocalcaemia (Milk Fever).

Pregnancy Toxaemia (Twin Lamb Disease)

Pregnancy Toxaemia (Twin Lamb Disease) is an acute metabolic disease that occurs in pregnant ewes during the last few weeks of pregnancy. It is most common in ewes that are in good condition and carrying multiple lambs (hence the name) but it can affect single-bearing ewes as well.

Symptoms are similar to Hypocalcaemia including in-coordination of movement, staggering and falling. After an hour or two, the ewe will lie down and be difficult to get up; she will be dull, staring with laboured breathing. Her breath may smell of acetone (nail polish remover).

Untreated, she will die but prompt diagnosis and treatment gives good recovery rates.  The ewe should be dosed with a glucose solution immediately (2oz in ½ pint warm water). A vet can also give glucose intravenously.

There are a number of proprietary products available – see lambing box.

There is some evidence that Twin Lamb Disease can be prevented by keeping ewes in store condition during the first and second third of pregnancy, after the pre-tupping flush and period of implantation.

Hypocalcaemia (Milk Fever)

Hypocalcaemia (Milk Fever) is a metabolic disease mainly affecting dairy cows and dairy goats, but which can affect ewes as well. It occurs mainly after lambing but can occur before. The basic cause is a shortage of calcium in the blood but the mechanism that controls calcium levels is very complex.

In the very early stages, the ewe may appear “excited”; after a time, she starts to stagger, lose balance and falls to the ground. She may struggle to rise at first but will generally give up and lie still. Breathing becomes deep and slow, pulse is faint but fast and the extremities become cold; coma follows then death.

However, if discovered and treated promptly, recovery rates are good. Treatment is calcium borogulconate, with or without magnesium, either intravenously or subcutaneously. See lambing box. Best to leave intravenous injections to your vet unless you have professional training.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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