Vet’s View

Country Smallholding - - Welcome - with Charlotte Mouland

Spong­ing sheep

Lamb­ing is a busy time. Whether you have five, 50 or even 500 ewes, fre­quent ob­ser­va­tion of the flock is es­sen­tial to de­tect and as­sist with dif­fi­cult lamb­ings and to care for the ewes and their new­born lambs. When the lamb­ing pe­riod runs into numbers of weeks of day and night-shifts it can be­come ex­haust­ing, par­tic­u­larly if also jug­gling a ‘day job’.

For some flocks it can be ex­tremely ap­peal­ing to have a com­pact lamb­ing pe­riod so that the ma­jor­ity of labour can be di­rected at a few days of hard work. Sponges can be used to tighten your lamb­ing pe­riod.

What is a sponge?

A sponge is a hor­mone-re­leas­ing de­vice which is placed in the vagina of ewes and used to syn­chro­nise the re­pro­duc­tive cy­cle. Over a 14 day pe­riod, the sponge primes the ewe for cy­cling by re­leas­ing pro­ges­terone into the blood­stream. When the sponge is re­moved, the fall in pro­ges­terone lev­els mim­ics the nor­mal cy­cle and trig­gers the ewe to come onto heat. When ex­e­cuted cor­rectly, you can ex­pect most of your sponged ewes to lamb within seven days.

Ap­pli­ca­tion of sponges can be per­formed man­u­ally or with an ap­pli­ca­tor with lu­bri­ca­tion. It is of­ten ad­vis­able to seek ad­vice from your vet when per­form­ing your first year of sponge ap­pli­ca­tion. Af­ter 14 days the sponges should be re­moved and, 48 hours af­ter this, the rams can be in­tro­duced. This 48 hour win­dow must be strictly ad­hered to at­tain good re­sults. Oc­ca­sion­ally, some sponges are not present when you come to re­move them and a ve­teri­nary ad­vice should be sought. Spong­ing can also be used to breed out of sea­son, and in this case an ad­di­tional hor­mone is given when the sponges are re­moved.

Other con­sid­er­a­tions

The flip side to a com­pact lamb­ing is that you need the fa­cil­i­ties to man­age it. Have you got enough wa­ter buck­ets, pens and man­power? If you have or­ganic sta­tus or pedi­gree an­i­mals, ad­vice must be sought from your con­trol body as this is a hor­monal in­ter­ven­tion.

Spong­ing, when used cor­rectly, can be hugely suc­cess­ful and hope­fully im­proves the over­all wel­fare of sheep and shep­herd/ ess!

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