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Stinting Singlers

Old-Time Ways Of
Beating “Pulpy Kidney”

By Nathan Griffith

Heavy-milking ewes are hard on the system of single lambs. The lamb gets “pulpy kidney” when it gets too much milk, and dies suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s always an unusually fast growing lamb that gets hit. Once symptoms appear, it’s too late; the lamb will be dead in 5 to 30 minutes.

The first step is to separate singler ewes from twinners.
The first step is to separate singler ewes from twinners.

I have never heard of a twin or triplet lamb getting “pulpy kidney” from too much milk, but I would suppose it’s possible with the specialized dairy breeds.

Pulpy kidney is the result of a germ infection (Clostridium perfringens) that shows no symptoms until it reaches a critical point and then gives off a lot of lethal poisons into the lamb’s system all at once. It usually hits the biggest, best-growing single lambs.

Bulk roughage helps cut a ewe's desire for extra hay-if she'll eat it!
Bulk roughage helps cut a ewe’s desire for extra hay-if she’ll eat it!

Early shepherds took twin lambs from poor milkers and put them on heavy milkers who had either had a single lamb or had lost a twin. This only works well with those unusual ewes that will take other ewes’ lambs, or that lamb at the right time for grafting. A ewe with a lamb still inside, but on the way out of the ewe (dilating the birth canal) will show a fondness for other newborn lambs if presented to her at that critical time, especially if smeared a little with the birth fluids of the not-yet-arrived lamb.

The modern (and best) method of dealing with this problem is to vaccinate the ewes some weeks before lambing.

But if you’ve missed your opportunity to vaccinate, yet another way also works: If the ewes with single lambs are separated from the twinners, they can be fed up on low-protein, high-fiber food at each feeding before they get good hay.

Single-lamb ewes should be fed high-class hay after shucks and cobs have been mostly eaten.
Single-lamb ewes should be fed high-class hay after shucks and cobs have been mostly eaten.

It’s way more work than ad lib fed twinner ewes, but it works.

My favorite low-protein, high-fiber sheep fodder is corncobs and shucks. Freshly shucked mind you, not moldy! I feed the corn to my hogs.

Some breeds of sheep would starve to death before they’d eat this stuff, but my Cotswolds love it. So, with them in a dry lot, I leave them first with a manger full of corn shucks and cobs, and toddle off to do the rest of the chores.

When I return, and they’ve finished their shucks and cobs, they get a much-reduced ration of good alfalfa or other choice hay. They eat the low nutrition stuff first; then with their tummies half full, they get the alfalfa as the main course.

And really, they love the shucks and cobs. I have seen Cotswold sheep leave good green pastures to eat corncobs. The ewes look so funny eating them, because a corncob looks like a cigar in their mouth while they’re chomping on it.

Our sheep love to eat corncobs and shucks.
Our sheep love to eat corncobs and shucks.

An old rule for whether the singler ewes are getting the right amount depends on a two-fold plan: (1) they’re losing condition-due to spare-diet nursing-at about the same rate as the twinners that are on an abundant diet, and (2) the single lambs are growing no more than 5% faster than the fastest growing twins.

About the effectiveness of vaccines vs. stinting ewes: Enterotoxemia vaccines are among the safest and most effective of all sheep medicines. So are the antitoxins that can be injected to lambs whose moms missed their early inoculations.

Some heavy-milking ewes will still milk quite heavily on a spare diet, though they may get skinnier. So the safest, cheapest plan is the pre-lambing vaccine. Early shepherds had neither vaccines nor antibiotics, and even the best of them lost single lambs now and then to pulpy kidney. I’m sure they would have used them if they had them-as the old-timer’s used to say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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