Downer Ewes

Down ewes can be frustrating and time consuming – the most common causes are metabolic and related to nutrition around lambing time. Treatment in all cases is much more likely to be successful if instigated as early as possible so accurate identification and diagnosis of downer ewes is key.

Twin Lamb
Twin lamb or pregnancy toxaemia is most common in older ewes carrying multiple lambs. It is caused by the ewe taking in insufficient amounts of energy during late pregnancy; she ends up using her body fats as an energy source which creates toxic by-products. 

Signs include:
•    Isolating herself from the rest of the flock
•    Going off feed
­•    Lethargy and depression
•    Apparent blindness and star gazing
•    Tremors/weakness/recumbency
•    Death
Treatment should include drenching with propylene glycol or another energy source such as “Ewe Boost”, administration of sub-cut calcium and importantly a NSAID injection. If signs are severe IV glucose or aborting the lambs may be required – contact the surgery ASAP in severely affected cases.
Prevention involves ensuring adequate ewe nutrition – body condition scoring, feeding according to expected lamb number, ensuring sufficient trough space, good quality forages and avoiding rapid diet changes.

Unlike cattle this is more likely to occur during late pregnancy in ewes though is possible in early lactation. Again older ewes are more at risk as their ability to metabolise calcium appropriately is reduced. Carrying multiple foetuses and twin lamb disease also increases the likelihood. It can also be triggered by stressful events such as moving/housing or a change in diet.

Signs include:
•    Depression/weakness/recumbency as with twin lamb but will progress differently…
•    Rumen stasis and bloat, regurgitation – green fluid running from the nose/mouth
•    Coma and death within 24-48 hours
Treatment involves give 60-80ml WARMED calcium borogluconate sub-cut over several sites (the response to IV calcium is much more rapid but needs to be done carefully and should be carried out by a vet only). Oral calcium supplements such as “Ewe Boost” should again be considered.
Often twin lamb and hypocalcaemia can be hard to distinguish so in these circumstances treat for both conditions.

Staggers is very similar in sheep to the disease in cattle and commonly occurs in conjunction with hypocalcaemia. It typically occurs later on in the production cycle affecting lactating ewes out at grass. Ruminants have no body stores of magnesium so need to ingest sufficient amounts every day. Signs include in-coordination, tremors, recumbency and fitting. Treatment involves giving up to 75ml magnesium sulphate by sub-cut injection as soon as signs are seen – rapid treatment is key. 

Related SEV Branch