Sunday 11 April 2010

Watery Mouth

“There’s aye something” is what the shepherd said that night when we were looking at a pair of lambs falling to watery mouth.

So what is watery mouth?

Basically constipation with a splash of E. Coli for good measure, but there are many factors and from my experiences lambing in sheds seems to produce more cases than sheep which lamb outdoors.

As already explained there are many important issues necessary to the lamb having a good start in life. It needs to be born alive, it needs to get footed (stand up) quite quickly, get its first feed of ewes milk known as colostrum and also get its plumbing on working. From being born to having a full belly of milk will be no more than half an hour on average. It will then settle and sleep. Waking invigorated, ready to suck again and ready to pass muck.

The lambs in question which we were studying had been slow lambs, slow to foot and needed human intervention to get their bellies filled although they did suck themselves once latched onto the tit. They were what I call dour (dozy), sack less creatures, born outside on a wet day they would have perished. Nature would have sorted them out.

So, back to watery mouth, also known as slavvers or rattle belly. Slavvers coming from the salivation, or mucus, that forms around the mouth in the latter stages of the illness and hence the name watery mouth. Rattle belly comes from the fact that if you shake the lamb its belly will rattle/splash/gurgle.

The lambs can appear quiet in the early stages of the illness, however, full lambs will also appear quiet as they sleep off their full tummies. Lambs going down with watery mouth appear to be full due to the fact they are constipated. It may appear that it would be a difficult call as to whether or not you have a perfectly healthy lamb or an ill lamb in front of you; it pays to know the lamb’s history. Anything which like these two had been slow to do all the normal things a lamb ought to do, or may not have had enough colostrum in their tummies are susceptible to going down with watery mouth.

There is another way of finding out whether your lamb is healthy or otherwise, that being to waken it up and stand it on its feet. I usually do this by lifting the lamb to its feet by picking it up by the skin in the middle of its back, sounds cruel I guess but it is loose skin and it also gives you another pointer to go by. A lamb that is roused from sleep and lifted to its feet ought to stretch, just as we do when we waken. This is a good sign. The loose skin which you’ve picked it up by ought to fall back into place, should it not then this is a sure sign of dehydration. Therefore, if the lamb you have just lifted to its feet stands lethargic looking with the skin raised on its back then sure enough there’s a problem.

So what can you do? An enema is the obvious solution. With a syringe, liquid paraffin (I often use warm soapy water) can be released into the back passage of the lamb in the hope it will encourage it to pass the faeces. (I’m being terribly polite here as we just call it shit). It is also necessary to get fluid into the lamb, even if this just being a small amount of rehydration fluids, what we call a scour formula. However in the latter stages the stomach will be seriously distended and septicaemia will be setting in, by this stage success in reversal of the illness is highly unlikely.

The lambing sheds I’ve worked in in the past have given the lambs a squirt of an oral anti bacterial medicine as soon as they are lambed, blanket treating every lamb as soon as it is born in the hope of preventing both scour and watery mouth. I also used to carry a 10ml syringe in my pocket at all times. I am talking now of sheds which would have 1,500 to 2,000 ewes going through them, sheds which would see many sets of triplets born, many lambs susceptible to falling foul of watery mouth. The 10ml syringe? Well, whilst doing my rounds of the individual pens, checking all was well or otherwise, any lamb that I felt was showing the first signs of watery mouth I would give it a gentle squirt of water up its anus and hopefully get it to pass the meconium (foetal muck), therefore hopefully getting it’s bowels on working properly, 9 times out of 10 this did the trick.

Most important of all the lamb must receive colostrum, the antibody rich milk the ewe produces when she first lambs, there are powdered substitutes available should the ewe not have sufficient of her own. This will save many lambs from going down with watery mouth but not quite all of them.

The farm I am lambing on at the moment carries the organic status. With organic farming it is not acceptable to blanket treat animals as a preventative measure (unless there is a confirmed problem within the flock). Any problems have to be referred to a vet, even when the shepherd is well aware of what the problem is it is still necessary to have a vet confirm the problem and authorise treatment. This can take days and with a problem such as watery mouth the lambs will be dead.

Now Shep ought to have more sense than to admit to misdemeanours over the world wide web, especially as I am becoming increasingly aware that my attempt at anonymity is not working, however I am going to admit to breaking the rules.

I have to admit to the fact that I anticipated there may be one or two problems with watery mouth, the way the weather has been and one thing and another you would expect to find odd lambs getting a poorer start in life and so I arrived at this lambing with my own bottle of the oral medicine for these lambs.

I have however abided by the rules. The two lambs in question died and the shepherd admitted to losing a couple of others before I played my ace card. I was straight and up front and offered the bottle for the cause, it was gratefully received. We are not blanket treating these lambs. The bottle I bought is only sufficient to treat 100 lambs, to date only a handful have received it, those we deem susceptible, at risk to falling foul of watery mouth are getting a squirt. It is early days and there weren’t many affected before treatment commenced but to date there has been nothing else gone down with watery mouth, let’s hope it continues along the same vein.


Unknown said...

I am a very amateur shepherd and help look after a very small mixed flock (Herdwick, Black Welsh, Badger Face, Hebridean, Balwen) Really enjoying reading your blog and thanks for the tips on Watery Mouth. Good luck. DE

Tarset Shepherd said...

That's a fair old mix you've got there Dudley, bet the Herdwick lambs are cute. Pleased you enjoy reading and good luck with the watery mouth - mind don't take my word as gospel, it's just what I find works well for me.

Unknown said...

My first season helping with lambing. We've lost a couple to watery mouth. All lambs get a wee squirt of anti scour when born. I think the two we lost managed to spit most of it out.
Love your blog. Happy lambing :-)

Tarset Shepherd said...

Unfortunately not all lambs survive Katryna. You mention they may have spit out the anti scour squirt. There ought to be a thin clear pipe in the box that the scour formula came in which will attach to the bottle and it will enable you to administer the liquid further back in their mouths which would hopefully prevent them from spitting the stuff out, just take care not to damage the back of the throat when using this pipe. Hope you're enjoying the experience of lambing and thank you for your kind words.