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  Don Bailey, D.V.M. Vet Check  

    If you’re puzzled about a sheep health problem, write immediately to Dr. Bailey at the above address. He thoughtfully responds by mail to your sheep questions, and some of his answers get published in sheep! to help readers with similar problems.

    Please do not ask Dr. Bailey to practice medicine over the telephone. If you have an immediate problem, call your local veterinarian.

    Always remember to check with Dr. Bailey for a second opinion. Questions sent via E-mail to sheepmagazine@citynet.net will be forwarded to Dr. Bailey.

Broken Legs In Lambs

What would cause young lambs to break a front leg for no apparent cause? We had two lambs that came up, each with one front leg broken.

There are several conditions that come to mind.

The first possible cause would be rickets. This condition is the result of an unbalance or shortage of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorous. Here the symptoms are more a deformity of the leg bones. The lambs are lame due to pain and the front legs bow outward. Fractures are not common.

Another condition that affects lambs is copper deficiency. Here the main symptoms are lack of coordination. A common name is “sway back.” A lamb can be born with a damaged nervous system, due to lack of copper in the ewe’s diet. Other lambs will develop symptoms later in life. This copper deficiency also affects the growth of long bones. This can lead to fractures of long bones and rib bones. Copper is a needed element in the sheep diet, but too much can cause poisoning, I would suggest you have your veterinarian send in liver samples for copper analysis. Having forage samples tested would be useful also.

You didn’t mention your mineral program. I would not recommend adding copper to your mineral unless there is conclusive evidence of a copper problem.

Toxoplasmosis Abortions

Last lambing season I had an abortion problem. The lab report came back toxoplasmosis. Since there is no available vaccine in the U.S., I was advised to get rid of my cats. What would your advice be?

I would suggest you bring the cats back. The only requirement is that you only want neutered, adult cats. Young cats become infected with toxoplasmosis, but you are safe with cats over one year of age.

Cats become infected by eating mice. By the time cats are one year old, they have developed immunity to toxoplasmosis and will not pass it on. You need to control the mice.

I would also advise feeding Deccox to help control the toxoplasmosis.

Ewe Gives Birth Twice, Two Weeks Apart

I just had a ewe lamb that gave birth to two small, healthy lambs. The surprise is that she lambed two weeks ago with a single. How is this possible?

This does happen. Apparently the ewe is bred, conceives, and then for some reason goes through another estrus cycle and re-breeds successfully. I would imagine this happens often-the first egg dying and aborting. The second breeding goes to full term.

In a very few cases the two differently-aged lambs are carried and are born at different times, usually 10 to 17 days apart. When two lambs are born from the same ewe at the same time with one large lamb and one very small lamb, this is not superfoetinism. This condition is caused by stress in early pregnancy and one lamb does not have enough placenta circulation so does not develop and grow like its partner.


I have just started lambing and five ewes are showing vaginal prolapses. This has never happened before. Usually I see one or two prolapses for the whole lambing season. We have had excellent fall pasture and the ewes are fat. Most of my pasture is hillside. The tail docks are a good length and there is no coughing. What has caused this sudden epidemic of vaginal prolapses? My treatment is to use a “prolapse spoon” (retainer) which works if the ewe is going to lamb soon (two weeks), but the ewes with very little udder and not due to lamb soon, respond better if I suture the vulva closed with umbilical tape. Do you have any idea as to what has caused this problem?

I think that you have answered your own questions. Ewes that are too fat, on hillsides and carrying twins are a good invitation to vaginal prolapse. Coughing and short tails could be an additional factor.

You are right about prolapse retainers; two weeks is about as long as I feel the retainers work. It pays to keep ewes with retainers in pens, but then with no exercise you are inviting ketosis. From there you can try the rope harness but eventually ewes that are a long way from lambing will do best sutured. You see cases where hog rings are placed on each side with a lace up cord run through them. I use umbilical tape and place loops on each side of the vulva, then lace it up as you would a shoe.

My advice with your ewes is to reduce their hay consumption and keep the ewes on flat, level ground if possible.

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