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Common Diseases of Ewes and Lambs at Lambing Time

09 March 2021
Type Media Article

By Glen Corbett, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

As we approach the main crop lambing date, there are many different diseases that need to be recognised in lambs and ewes. Of course, each farm will have their own problems to overcome. I will look at some of the main diseases/problems encountered, how to recognise them, what causes them and how to possibly treat them and recognise that severe cases will probably need interventions from your Vet.

Twin Lamb Disease:

Also called Pregnancy Toxaemia, this is a disease of ewes in late pregnancy and is caused by insufficient energy intakes to meet the ewe’s own requirements along with growing the unborn lambs.


  • Depression
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Apparent Blindness
  • Recumbent


  • Oral drench with Propylene Glycol as soon as possible (50ml x 2 daily)
  • Calcium 20% injected under the skin at a number of different sites in case Hypocalcaemia is also present.
  • Palatable feeds (good hay and concentrates)
  • In severe cases, call the Vet


  • Correct nutrition in last 2 months of pregnancy
  • Tailor feed to ewe’s condition and requirements based on litter size
  • Ensure a rising plain of nutrition, prevent any sudden changes to feed type/diet


This is an infection caused by a bacterium found in soil environments. It is often associated with silage feeding as the bacteria multiply in the acidic conditions. Often outbreaks are seen two or three weeks after feeding. The bacteria often gain entry through erupting teeth and track up the nerve to the brain, therefore, making hoggets/young ewes quite susceptible.


  • Lack of appetite
  • Depressed and disorientated
  • Salivation
  • Facial Paralysis


  • Frontload antibiotic injection, even successful treatment will take a long time
  • If occurring in pregnant ewes, administer Propylene Glycol to help prevent Twin Lamb Disease


  • Discontinue use of the silage used two weeks previously
  • Spoiled or refused silage should be routinely discarded or fed to cattle which are less susceptible
  • Minimise soil contamination during silage making
  • Ensure punctured bales are repaired promptly and that pits/clamps are well rolled


Also called Vaginal Prolapse, it is a common issue on some farms. It is a protrusion of the vagina and occurs before lambing. Sometimes the prolapse will disappear once a ewe stands up. The main risk factor is inadequate feed space but other factors such as over conditioned ewes, short tail docking, lameness/recumbent are often linked to the condition.

Prolapse can go on to perforate, allowing the ewe’s guts to protrude which is usually fatal. This can cause abortion and ringworm.


  • Thoroughly wash and inspect for damage
  • Gently push prolapse back in, using the palm of your hand
  • Use a harness or spoon then to keep in place
  • Repeated cases or very large prolapse will need the Vet to put a stitch in place


  • Ensure adequate feed space (600mm, two foot, per head for large framed ewes) based on Department of Agriculture guidelines
  • Avoid allowing ewes get overweight
  • Cull any ewes that have prolapsed previously

Hypothermia (lambs):

The most common problem with new born lambs is hypothermia. Lambs get cold very quickly unless they are well fed. A lamb’s temperature should lie between 39-40℃. Anything below this and the lamb has hypothermia. Temperatures less than 37℃ are classed as sever hypothermia.


  • Lambs will be humped up, lethargic and may not follow their mother
  • If it’s severe, the lamb may be flat and not able to hold its head up


Early action is essential as lambs will very quickly deteriorate and may die. How you approach the hypothermic lamb depends on three things – its temperature, age and ability to swallow.

  • If hypothermia is mild, dry the lamb, feed and then warm it
  • If hypothermia is severe and the lamb is more than five hours old and able to swallow, feed with stomach tube, dry and warm it
  • If hypothermia is severe and the lamb is more than five hours old and unable to swallow, give intraperitoneal injection of glucose, dry and then warm
  • If the hypothermia is severe and the lamb is less than five hours old, dry and warm them, then feed with stomach tube

The warm up process is best done under an infra-red light. It is vital that lambs have a source of energy before any attempts are made to warm them up. Colostrum in the first 5 hours is vital for a lamb, that’s when it can absorb it best. Then as it grows older the early colostrum will help build immunity against disease.

Other Diseases:

Although I have ran through some of the main disease and ailments of ewes and lambs, there are other problems that can occur. Other common lamb disease are watery mouth and joint ill. As they get older, there are clostridial diseases. Ensuring lambs receive adequate colostrum in the first twenty four hours of life is critical (50ml per kg birth weight is the rule of thumb for first feed). Once they are grazing after 6 weeks or so, they might require a dose of a white anthelminthic for Nematodirus control. Also, Coccidiosis needs to be watched for and treated appropriately if required.

With ewes there are other diseases such as milk fever and grass tetany. Grass tetany can occur when there are low blood magnesium levels in the ewe’s body. It can be a risk at times when grass is lush as this is low in magnesium and high in potassium. Use a mineral bucket with calmag to help prevent this.