On the sick list

Country Smallholding - - Feature The Deep End -

All an­i­mals can get sick from time to time, but there are cer­tain dis­or­ders that are only en­coun­tered dur­ing preg­nancy or lac­ta­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, there are in­fec­tions that can re­sult in abortion, meta­bolic dis­or­ders that may be brought about by nu­tri­tional stress and other com­pli­ca­tions, such as mas­ti­tis (in­flam­ma­tion of the ud­der), pro­lapse and dif­fi­cul­ties en­coun­tered dur­ing the ac­tual birth process.


An abortion (‘mis­car­riage’) may be caused by rough han­dling or other stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, or by an in­fec­tious agent. Abor­tions may pass un­no­ticed, un­less they oc­cur dur­ing the fi­nal third of preg­nancy. De­pend­ing on the cause, af­fected an­i­mals do not al­ways ap­pear un­well.

The safest op­tion, if an an­i­mal is seen to have aborted, is to as­sume that it may be in­fec­tious and to iso­late her from the rest of the flock or herd. Your vet can take a blood sam­ple and col­lect foetal ma­te­rial for anal­y­sis in or­der to de­ter­mine the cause. Con­sider us­ing a vac­cine against the com­moner forms of abortion in fu­ture.

TIP: Be aware that some forms of abortion in live­stock are zoonotic and pose a very se­ri­ous risk to preg­nant women.

TIP: In the case of tox­o­plas­mo­sis, which is a com­mon cause of abortion in sheep, do­mes­tic cats are the prin­ci­ple source of in­fec­tion. Tox­o­plas­mo­sis can also af­fect other mam­mals, in­clud­ing hu­mans. Young cats and breed­ing fe­males are the worst of­fend­ers, so re­duce the risk by only keep­ing neutered adult males on the hold­ing. Also try to pre­vent cats from soil­ing stored live­stock feed and for­age.

Meta­bolic dis­or­ders

In terms of meta­bolic dis­or­ders, I am pri­mar­ily talk­ing about preg­nancy tox­aemia, hypocal­caemia and hy­po­mag­ne­saemia, all three of which are closely linked to nutri­tion and stress. The

first two are most likely to be en­coun­tered in late ges­ta­tion, with hy­po­mag­ne­saemia be­ing seen in early lac­ta­tion in graz­ing live­stock, and also some­times in the au­tumn. The symp­toms of preg­nancy tox­aemia and hypocal­caemia are very sim­i­lar, but whereas hypocal­caemic an­i­mals re­spond very quickly to treat­ment, which con­sists of in­jec­tions of cal­cium boroglu­conate, which is some­thing any small­holder can carry out them­selves, an­i­mals suf­fer­ing from preg­nancy tox­aemia do not, and a high pro­por­tion will die de­spite care­ful nurs­ing. Hy­po­mag­ne­saemia is best avoided by pro­vid­ing sup­ple­men­tary mag­ne­sium, in the form of licks or bo­luses, dur­ing pe­ri­ods of high risk.

Any preg­nant an­i­mal that ap­pears lethar­gic, re­luc­tant to feed or which sep­a­rates it­self from the rest of the flock or herd is likely to be suf­fer­ing from one or other of th­ese dis­or­ders and must be treated im­me­di­ately. Don’t wait to see if it is a bit bet­ter in the morn­ing — it won’t be. The first course of ac­tion is to in­ject cal­cium boroglu­conate and ob­serve the re­sponse. If it sub­se­quently turns out to have been suf­fer­ing from some­thing else then your ini­tial treat­ment won’t have done any harm and will have helped to com­bat stress.

TIP: When they go down, ewes suf­fer­ing from hypocal­caemia (cal­cium de­fi­ciency) look like they have top­pled over for­wards, whereas those suf­fer­ing from preg­nancy tox­aemia (twin lamb dis­ease) ap­pear to have slumped back­wards.

Hypocal­caemia: sim­ple to cure, but fa­tal if not treated quickly. Would you recog­nise the symp­toms in time?

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