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Preventing and treating lambing sickness and milk fever

Early treatment of lambing sickness and milk fever results in the best outcomes for ewes and lambs; however, prevention is always preferable.

Preventing lambing sickness

You can avoid lambing sickness by recognising and anticipating any decline in the level of nutrition in the pasture. You can then provide better pastures or energy and protein supplements to meet the increased nutritional requirements of pregnant ewes. Avoid periods when the ewes won't be feeding, such as yarding.

You should feed your ewes energy supplements 2-3 weeks before mustering, shearing, crutching or lambing to ensure their energy status is improved in time. If necessary, continue feeding the supplements during shearing or crutching.

Preventing milk fever

To help prevent milk fever, you should minimise any stress to heavily pregnant ewes. Provide a well-balanced diet and avoid placing hungry stock and/or pregnant ewes in paddocks with lots of plants containing oxalate. Feed as much calcium as possible to your ewes after lambing, for example, in clover-dominant pasture. Provide supplementary feed if necessary. If you supplement feed with grains (which are low in calcium) you can include the 1.5% finely ground limestone (calcium carbonate) to increase the levels of calcium.

Where possible, only hold the first run of heavily pregnant ewes in the yards overnight when shearing or crutching and minimise the time they are in the yards.

Treating lambing sickness

If you can treat ewes with lambing sickness soon after you notice the earliest signs and while they are still reasonably alert, they are more likely to recover. Once ewes have become drowsy, treatment is less effective.

You can give ewes an energy solution (e.g. molasses) or a glucose or propylene glycol drench, followed by a subcutaneous injection of a commercial calcium solution (with added glucose). Always follow the doses and instructions on the label. Follow-up treatments may be necessary.

You should administer the commercial calcium solution injections under the skin of the neck, shoulder or over the ribs. You can massage the area you injected to help distribute the solution. If you're administering larger doses, you should inject in different places.

These injections aren't recommended as the only treatment for lambing sickness as relapses often occur, but they have the advantage of also treating any milk fever that may be present.

You may need to drench affected ewes with up to 1L of water to help overcome dehydration. Make sure that there is accessible water and shade for them. You also need to provide adequate soft feed such as grain or lucerne hay which is necessary to keep the digestive system working and provide enough energy.

Once your ewes start showing signs of lambing sickness, you should provide energy supplements to the rest of your stock as soon as possible to minimise the risk of further cases.

Treating milk fever

You can treat milk fever with an injection of a commercial calcium solution. You will see a rapid response (within half an hour) after injecting affected ewes.

Milk fever can be accompanied by lambing sickness, so commercial calcium solutions with added glucose, magnesium and phosphorous are the ideal medication to keep on hand for both conditions. These include Calcigol Plus and Flopak Plus (4 in 1) that are readily available from your local agent. Always follow the doses and instructions on the label.

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