12 January 2023
A Denbighshire sheep farm has halved its incidence of prolapse at lambing by tackling known risk factors in pregnant ewes.
Prolapse had been one of the biggest challenges in the closed flock of 350 pedigree Lleyns and Suffolk x Lleyns run by Hugh Jones and his mother, Glenys, at Pentre Farm, Pentrecelyn; in 2020, there were 32 cases.
Through their work as a Farming Connect Demonstration Site, they have been working with veterinary consultant Fiona Lovatt to reduce that number.
Their efforts have paid off: during the 2022 lambing season, cases had reduced to 14, and work is continuing to cut that number further.
During a recent Farming Connect open day at Pentre Farm, Dr Lovatt said there were a number of factors that put ewes at risk of prolapse – including being over-conditioned in early pregnancy, genetics, and short tail-docking, which weakens ligaments.
Running pregnant ewes on steep ground can also put them at risk, as can the wrong balance of minerals in the diet in late pregnancy.
“No single thing is responsible, which is why we have been through everything with a fine-tooth comb,’’ said Dr Lovatt, of Flock Health Ltd.
“Prolapse is very flock-specific and twin- and triplet-bearing ewes are at the biggest risk, because they are carrying a heavy load of lambs.’’
Ewe body condition score and weights were monitored and analysed at weaning, pre-tupping, scanning (at the end of January), during vaccination (at the end of February), and at lambing.
Genetics can play a factor, with some ewe families more likely to prolapse than others.
Dr Lovatt stressed the importance of keeping good records to avoid keeping ewe lambs from dams that have prolapsed.
“In most flocks, it is the case that ewes that are over-conditioned through their pregnancy are more likely to prolapse,’’ she said.
“We kept a close eye on body condition in the Pentre flock, and unusually, we found that it was not the fatter ewes that were prolapsing – there was something else going on.’’
The nutritional make-up of the diet was analysed through pregnancy and lactation, and a full mineral audit was undertaken, with detailed logging of all mineral inputs – from grazing, forage, supplements, water supply and treatments – to identify the total supply and to get an indication of oversupply, undersupply and pinch points.
“It is not just a simple case of ‘do this one thing, and it will sort out the problem’. With prolapsing ewes, you have to consider a few different areas,’’ said Dr Lovatt.
These data helped to inform changes at Pentre Farm.
Pregnant ewes are now encouraged to eat hay alongside grass to increase fibre intake, to create a good rumen environment and improve gut transit times.
When concentrates are fed to the ewes on hilly ground, they are placed at the top of the hill, to encourage ewes to walk up to improve their fitness.
Salt blocks have also been introduced, as the analysis showed high levels of potassium.
“We are hoping that the intake of salt will help rebalance the ratio between sodium and potassium,’’ said Dr Lovatt.
If slurry or potash fertiliser is spread early in the year, it can lead to high potassium, which can put pressure on magnesium supply to the ewes at grass.
Changes have also been made for the future, with careful attention at docking time to ensure that ewe lamb tails are kept long enough to easily cover the vulva.
Mastitis has been another challenge in Mr Jones’ flock; this was also addressed through Farming Connect project work.
Ewes are at risk of mastitis when there is a mismatch of milk supply and demand; udder and teat conformation and shape also have a role to play.
“It is important to select ewe lambs with the perfect bag and with teats at the equivalent of a ‘twenty to four’ angle on a clock face,’’ said Dr Lovatt.
“It is not a quick fix, but an important consideration going forward.’’
Milk samples were taken in 2021 to identify the mastitis-causing organisms, and Staph aureus was shown to be the main culprit. It is possible to vaccinate against this disease, but this was not considered as necessarily cost-effective for this flock.
Careful attention was paid to ewe nutrition and health and hygiene, as well as weaning management. As a consequence, in 2022, cases reduced from nine to two.
“It is still a work in progress. Every stone needs to be turned, but we are moving in the right direction,’’ said Dr Lovatt.
49ha owned and 28ha rented
Pure Lleyn rams used on half of the Lleyn flock to breed replacements; remaining ewes and Suffolk x Lleyn ewes sired to New Zealand-bred Suffolks
Lambs grass-fed – limited concentrate only given to the late finishers in the winter
Lambs and cull ewes sold at Mold livestock market from end of May
Aberdeen Angus beef bull calves bought from Buitelaar and sold fat to Dawn Meats
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.