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Sheep producers reminded to watch for pregnancy toxaemia

Released on

Released on:
Monday, 21. May 2018 - 12:45

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development is warning sheep producers of an increased risk of pregnancy toxaemia in lambing ewes over coming weeks, due to dry autumn conditions and high rates of twin pregnancies.

Veterinary officer Anna Erickson urged producers to check their lambing ewes frequently, preferably daily, for the signs of pregnancy toxaemia.

Dr Erickson said treatments for pregnancy toxaemia were readily available but their effectiveness depended on identifying the signs early, before ewes go down.

“In the early stages, affected ewes will separate from the rest of the mob and be slow to come up to feed,” Dr Erickson said.

“This is the time to treat with products containing propylene glycol, given as a drench, repeated daily until a response is seen. Injectable 4-in-1 calcium products contain a small amount of glucose and will produce a temporary response but should be combined with drenching with propylene glycol.”

In the later stages of pregnancy toxaemia, ewes are generally ‘dopey’ and not alert. Even if feed is placed in front of them they may not eat and if lifted, they seem to lack the will to walk and sit down again.

Dr Erickson said with reduced green feed through much of the Grainbelt and very short supplies in the South West, many producers were providing supplementary feed for livestock, which was particularly important for pregnant ewes.

“In late pregnancy, feed quantity, quality and digestibility are all critical,” she said.

“Late pregnant ewes are always finely balanced metabolically and it doesn’t take much to cause issues. It is vital to provide adequate amounts of feed that contain the right level of energy.

“A medium frame twin-bearing ewe in late pregnancy requires 15 megajoules of energy a day. That’s more than one kilogram of lupins a day, slightly more if it’s an oat:lupin mix."

Dr Erickson urged sheep producers to test the energy content of their oats, hay and silage, to ensure the feed has sufficient energy to maintain the health of their pregnant ewes.

“If the feed is of low digestibility, the ewe cannot eat enough in a day to meet her energy requirements,” she said.

“Feeding ewes two to three times a week with untested oats is not adequate for twin-bearing ewes and is likely to result in pregnancy toxaemia.”

Farmers are advised to contact a private veterinarian for information or if they see unusual signs of diseases, including death or neurological signs, such as lack of responsiveness in more than a couple of sheep.

Dr Erickson said access to markets for livestock and livestock products depended on evidence from disease investigations and other targeted disease testing to demonstrate that Western Australia is free from reportable and trade-sensitive livestock diseases.

“Ask your local department officer or private vet about subsidies available to investigate significant disease events – not only will you find the answer to your disease problem but the data supports the sustainability of the State’s valuable livestock industries,” she said.

For more information pregnancy toxaemia in ewes and feed budgets and feeding pregnant ewes is available on this website.


Media contact: 

Jodie Thomson/Lisa Bertram, media liaison             

+61 (0)8 9368 3937