Prevent toxemia in sheep and goats by managing winter nutrition

Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Even though kidding and lambing season isn’t until spring, now (mid-November to mid-December) is the time to prevent pregnancy toxemia in sheep and goats, says Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“Prevention is the best way to handle pregnancy toxemia and the best way to do so is through proper feeding of the flock or herd during the winter,” says Dr. Fernandez. Make sure does or ewes are in good condition (3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5), but not overconditioned.

Most likely to suffer from toxemia are older females or those that are fat and carrying twins or triplets. Very thin females are at risk, but they are less likely to be affected.

Pregnancy toxemia is a common metabolic disease in goats and sheep during late pregnancy caused by the increasing demands on their bodies as fetuses are completing nearly 80 percent of their growth and the female’s nutritional needs are doubling, says Dr. Fernandez. But the space in her rumen is reduced because of the room taken up by the growing fetuses. If she does not eat enough high quality feed, she will begin mobilizing fat reserves.

To generate energy from fat stores, she needs blood sugar. If she does not get enough energy from her feed, ketones created during fat metabolism build up to toxic levels. Because very thin females have less fat to mobilize, fewer ketones are created thus decreasing their chances of toxemia.

A common example of a ketone is acetone in nail polish remover. Imagine having nail polish remover in your blood. The doe or ewe stops eating, becomes lethargic, has difficulty walking, grinds her teeth and will eventually go down. Her breath will smell sweetish or foul because of the ketones in her blood. Finally, she will lapse into a coma and die.

“Once she goes down, her likelihood of recovering drops to nearly zero,” warns Dr. Fernandez. “If one of your does or ewes becomes affected, early treatment while she can still stand is critical,” he says.

Provide a high energy feed to increase the amount of glucose in her blood. Also, give her 60 to 90 milliliters of propylene glycol two to three times a day until she recovers or gives birth. You may have to abort the pregnancy or have the veterinarian do an emergency Caesarian section. The female almost always gets right up and is back to normal once the fetuses are removed.

For more information on this and other livestock issues, contact Dr. Fernandez at fernandezd@uapb.edu or (870) 575-7214.

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