Identify the ewes at risk and manage the energy balance correctly

Negative energy balance in ewes

During the last few weeks of sheep gestation, ewes are in negative energy balance. Correct feeding of ewes pre lambing can be a challenge, particularly in ewes that are too fat and/or carrying twins or triplets. A change in weather, severe heat, cold or transport will result in a decrease in dry matter intake. Negative energy balance will then lead to a drop in blood glucose which in turn will result in an increase in ketone production. This results in ketosis, also referred to as lambing sickness or pregnancy toxaemia in sheep.

Clinical signs of ketosis in sheep

At first, the ewe will separate herself from the rest of the flock. She will start shaking, circling, twisting her neck and lifting her head up. Teeth grinding can be seen and heard. A sweet smell may be present on the breath. Ewes near lambing may be weak and experience lambing problems.

Prevention of ketosis in sheep

To prevent ketosis in sheep, it is important to identify the animals carrying twins or triplets, separate them and provide them with a diet that will meet their increased energy demands. The level of nutrition should be increased gradually over the last 6 weeks of sheep gestation. Provide enough trough space and avoid sudden changes of the ration. Provide extra feed in bad weather. To provide the ewe energy, it can be treated with products containing gluconeogenic energy from 2-3 weeks before lambing up to the first 2-3 weeks after lambing.

In animals carrying a single lamb, the risk is they become too fat. All animals should be maintained at a body condition score of 2.5-3 throughout gestation. This will prevent any ewe from becoming excessively fat.

Treatment of ketosis in sheep

Ewes with clinical signs of ketosis should be treated twice daily with a product containing propylene glycol as well as vitamins and trace elements stimulating liver function. In severe cases, an intravenous infusion with a glucose solution may be necessary.

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