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A mass of pink flesh hanging from the vulva of usually a heavily-pregnant ewe
Dry ewes can also have bearings
The “bearing” may be the inverted (inside out) vagina
If it’s big it may contain the bladder, the cervix and the uterus (womb)
Bearings can be caused by high pressure in the abdomen due to pregnancy, a full rumen, the sheep being overweight, walking uphill, a full bladder or a combination of these factors
Treatment and prevention
If the bearing is recent and small, you may be able to push it back in. Firstly disinfect the prolapse then attempt pushing it back in. Emptying the bladder and pointing the ewe downhill will assist in this. In some cases, if the bearing has dried out or if it is a very large bearing, euthanasia may be the best option. A veterinarian can be called to complete a caesarian in order to save the lambs. If the bearing does retract, it is important to retain the bearing to prevent it coming out again. This is done by the vet placing sutures around the vagina and vulva. Ewes that have had a bearing should be culled once they have raised their lamb. At risk ewes should be kept off hilly pastures and encouraged to do gentle exercise. It is also important to maintain a steady diet, reduce the amount of fibre in their diet, and avoid ewes from exceeding a BCS of 4.
A sheep that has rolled over onto its back is called a “cast” sheep. It may not be able to get up without assistance. This happens most commonly with short, stocky sheep with full fleeces on flat terrain. Heavily pregnant ewes are most prone. Cast sheep can become distressed and die within a short period of time if they are not rolled back into a normal position. When back on their feet, they may need to be supported for a few minutes to ensure they are steady.
Dystocia (difficulty in lambing)
Difficult birth can be caused by the lamb being too large for the ewe’s birth canal. This can be avoided by ensuring ewes are correct size and body condition, as well as selecting rams with an ASBV for smaller lambs, especially for maiden ewe flocks. Other causes include malpresentation e.g. head or leg back, or tail presented to birth canal, or ewe weakness, or over nutrition of ewes in late pregnancy.
Force should not be used to deliver lambs (alive or dead) due to the danger of injury to the ewe and lamb. Instead, lubrication, manipulation and adjusting the presentation so that the lamb’s head and feet (if head first) or two hind feet (if tail first) are together as they exit the birth canal.
Tell-tale signs of birth trauma include large-headed lambs, no evidence of walking or breathing, subcutaneous oedema, empty stomach and haemorrhage of the liver, or of the brain or spinal cord.
Apart from lamb deaths, dystocia also accounts for a large proportion of ewe deaths. Ewes that are given assistance at birth should be clearly marked, and the lamb also identified for later culling. This is because ewes will often go on to have birth difficulties in subsequent years, and lambs from these ewes may also not be good breeders.
Wet-drying ewes is also a good chance to examine them for mastitis. The udder will be swollen and painful, hot and discoloured, and ewes may be lame. This can be a major cause of lamb loss, especially if it extends into both halves of the udder. Conversely, mastitis may be caused by ewes losing lambs. Other causes are milk stasis at weaning, damage from lambs or other sheep, infections including scabby mouth, dirty conditions such as sheep camps, or injury from shearing.