Common Problems at Lambing Time

Thursday, 11 February, 2021

There are many problems we can experience in new-born lambs and we will have a look at some of the most common issues amongst them. The first issue that can often arise is lamb hypothermia. Hypothermia is seen in lambs that are small, have had difficulty suckling colostrum or are exposed to wet or windy conditions. If the lamb is less than 5 hours old and has a temperature less than 37°C then put it in a warm box and give it colostrum once its temperature is above 38°C. If your lamb is older than 5 hours old then it may require glucose intraperitoneal before it is warmed up and it will also be low in blood glucose too. When giving glucose into the lambs belly it must be done using a clean needle to avoid infection. Aim to give the lambs 10ml /kg of 20% glucose that has been warmed up to 39°C.

Watery mouth is commonly seen when lambing indoors. It is caused by E.coli bacteria which the lambs ingests from the lambing shed. Lambs that are affected are wet around the mouths due to the production of excess salvia. They rapidly will go on to collapse and die if they do not receive any treatment. The prevention of watery mouth relies on ensuring that every lamb receives adequate colostrum [50ml/kg in the first 6 hours of life followed by 200ml / kg over the following 24 hours of life] as well as ensuring that the lambing sheds are clean and hygienic to reduce the bacteria within the shed. The routine use of antibiotics given to every lamb to prevent watery mouth developing is no longer best practice. We should target our preventative treatments to the most at risk lambs which are those that have not received adequate colostrum such as twins or triplets or to refrain from using antibiotic treatment for the first few weeks of lambing until the first case of watery mouth is seen.

Navel ill can be seen when lambs are born in unhygienic conditions and it is commonly prevented by using a strong iodine solution on the lamb’s navels. Lambs with navel ill will have thickened and hot umbilical cords that will spread infection into the rest of the body and this commonly leads on to joint ill. Both conditions should be with an appropriate antibiotic injection and anti-inflammatory where required. Joint ill can arise in older lambs due to other infectious causes. Discuss this with your vet if you are having issues.

Fractured ribs or limbs can arise following a difficult lambing. Lambs that have suffered fractured ribs will be unlikely to have adequate colostrum intake so it is important to give them an anti-inflammatory pain relief and to consider tubing them colostrum if you are concerned about their colostrum intake. For fractured limbs then they need stabilised and cast to allow the bone to heal. Due to the young age of the lambs the fractures will heal quickly once stabilised so consult your vet to get them cast. Fractured limbs will arise from excess force applied during lambing. Ensure that you are pulling on both lambs legs equally and that if you are using ropes to assist you, then placing them above the lambs knee will be a much stronger area to pull on as well as using a head wire to help.

Entropion is an inherited condition where the eyelids are turned in against the eye and leads to the hair rubbing on the eye which is a very painful condition. You will notice the affected lambs from the tear staining on the side of their face. There are various treatment options including suture, staples or injections to sort the eyelids into the correct position.

Lambs which are born with prolapsed intestines need immediate veterinary attention to repair the umbilical hernia that has caused this issue. Keep the lambs warm and get the guts warm, moist and clean until the vet arrives. There is a high risk that they will develop an infection when this occurs so time is of the essence.

From the ewes point of view there are many issues that can arise. Any abortions that occur leading up to lambing should be investigated. The best way to get a diagnosis of the cause is for a vet to sample the aborted lambs and submit them for testing. There are many causes of abortion and there are some very effective vaccinations to prevent them from occurring so contact your vet if you are experiencing any abortions.

Vaginal prolapses can occur in the lead up to lambing in ewes which are carrying multiple lambs and are in good condition. Prolapses should be replaced as soon as you identify them. You can do this by putting a harness and a spoon on the ewe where required. If they continue to prolapse then seek your vets help.

Following lambing some ewes will experience uterine prolapses and this requires immediate veterinary attention to replace them. Keep the ewe clean and quiet until the vet arrives.

Ewes can experience milk fever in the run up to lambing time which can be onset from any change such as moving them. The affected ewes will initially present wobbly on their feet and then rapidly become unable to stand. They should receive calcium solution under the skin rapidly for treatment of the milk fever and monitor them for the reoccurrence of the condition.

Twin lamb disease can be a major issue at lambing time. It occurs because the ewe cannot meet the energy demands of the growing lambs inside her. Ewes that are in the earlier stages of the disease will separate themselves from the rest of the flock and appear unaware of their surroundings. As the disease develops they can salivate excessively and appear blind, progressing on to being unable to stand and not wanting to eat at all. Treatment is by the administration of oral propylene glycol several times a day alongside oral rehydration and a B vitamins injection. It is important to separate the affected ewe from the rest of the flock and give her access to fresh forage, water and clean bedding.

Finally there is all the complications that arise during the birth process from malpresentations of the lamb to ringwomb of the ewe. Some cases of ringwomb can be linked to a calcium deficiency in the ewe so give them calcium solution under the skin and leave for 30 mins to see if the cervix will soften. In some cases gentle manipulation of the cervix will allow dilation to allow passage of the lambs but in other cases a caesarean section may be the best option to avoid unnecessary trauma to the ewe.

All in all, lambing time is a rewarding one, but a time that tests the best of us so if you are in doubt then give your vet a ring and we’ll be happy to help you out.