19th May 2019

Low Energy vs Low Calcium in Ewes

Most farmers will be aware of the affects of low energy on lambing ewes, managing their flock to try and prevent Pregnancy Toxaemia, otherwise known as Twin Lamb Disease. However, a second disease can appear quite similar to this, and that is Hypocalcaemia, or too low body calcium.

In both cases, ewes close to lambing may not come to the food trough, be lethargic/depressed, tremor or shake, appear weak, become recumbent and death is the end result if not treated. In cases of low calcium, they may develop bloat and reflux rumen contents, so this is seen at the nose/mouth. Both can be induced by stress, such as moving for housing or dog worrying. However, not all ewes show all signs, so it is easy to confuse the two conditions.

In both cases, action needs to be taken immediately. Drenching with an energy drench such as Ceto Phyton is vital to control twin lamb disease. In severe cases, veterinary treatment with intravenous glucose or as a last resort, steroid and even early lambing, may be necessary. Fresh water and palatable foods should then be given to try and encourage the ewe to eat.

For hypocalcaemia, ewes tend to deteriorate even faster. For example, once reflux is seen at the nostrils, death often has occurred by 24hrs later, but with a large flock of sheep, it can be difficult to spot the signs early enough and aggressive treatment is often necessary. Subcutaneous calcium can be given, however and initial intravenous injection given by a vet is generally necessary to gain control of the calcium level in the body.

Please note, both glucose and calcium are dangerous if given intravenously not under controlled circumstances. Apart from it being an act of veterinary surgery and therefore only legally allowed by vets, we would always advise calling a vet if an intravenous injection is required for safety reasons for the ewe.

Prevention of hypocalcaemia often involves adding calcium and other mineral containing supplements to the diet. Many farmers do this with mineral licks, however some ewes will not use these licks so they may be at increased risk. It is often better to mix the mineral supplement as part of the ewe ration and to ensure it is mixed well.