Tuesday 3 May 2011


Whilst on the night shift I managed to clock up three ewes on one night which were prolapsing. These are ewes which had yet to lamb although to those with little knowledge it may have appeared that one in particular was trying to lamb, she was straining on as though trying to give birth.

Prolapse of the cervix (neck of the womb) tends to affect ewes prior to lambing but that is not a hard and fast rule, they can also suffer from the condition after they have lambed.

The symptoms can be so slight one can wonder if they have imagined it. A golf ball sized pink bleb at the backside of the ewe which when she stands up gets sucked back in again and vanishes from sight. They can also be so severe that there is absolutely no doubting what the problem is. A football sized bleb at the backside of the ewe.

There are many trains of thought regarding the reasons for ewes prolapsing, some are linked to feeding – too much hay or dry matter, mouldy or poor quality hay. There is the line of thought that the weight of the lambs the ewe is carrying causes her to prolapse, or that the lamb/lambs somehow put pressure on the ewe causing her to start pressing on as though having birthing contractions. I don’t know what the true cause is but there is no doubt that some muscular problem arises allowing the prolapse to occur.

Hill sheep show a lower percentage of prolapse problems than in-bye sheep do. My logic tells me that this is due to them carrying fewer lambs in their tummies, getting better exercise and probably receiving less artificial feedstuffs such as hay and sheep cake.

The biggest drawback with the hill ewe if she does happen to have prolapsed is that they are more likely to have a full prolapse which basically sees the cervix and surrounding muscles totally pushed out into the outside world, where it may no longer look pink and fleshy but may have picked up contamination or even damage. So why would the hill ewe be more likely to have a full prolapse? Due in main to the fact that they are not as easily looked as sheep in fields, they aren’t all standing at the gate waiting for the feed bag. Hill sheep are scattered all over the hill and are raked and fed accordingly, many are fed on feed blocks rather than actual sheep nuts. They just aren’t as easy to spot.

As said, the prolapse can vary from the minor golf ball size to the major. Probably the best way to describe a full prolapse would be to imagine a rugby ball, cut in half around the fattest bit in the middle, that would give you a rounded cone shaped object. Now imagine it looking fleshy, slightly swollen and protruding out of a sheeps backside – there you have it – a prolapse of the cervix – not nice!

My god! Now what? If the little golf ball sized ones suck themselves back in does the big ones do the same? Unfortunately not, once out it will stop out unless someone comes to the rescue and puts it back inside the ewes body.

Care has to be taken. It is not always possible to have water and disinfectant on hand as it does pay to clean the offending article up before replacing it, might just save some infection from kicking in. The best we can often do is gently pick off and bits of grass or whatever which may be adhered to the fleshy mass and then try and encourage it to return to where it came from. Only drawback is that a full prolapse has somehow managed to be bigger than the hole in which it escaped from. It is a two handed job trying to gently encourage the slippy slidey fleshy lump to return to where it belongs. Firm pressure is needed but do beware of putting too much individual finger pressure on and also be wary of finger nails. Fingers can easily puncture a prolapse and it can then burst.

Once the fleshy ‘lump’ has disappeared from sight back into the orifice from where it originally escaped the problem is still not over – release the pressure and chances are it will just pop straight back out again as all the time you have been gently encouraging it to return home the ewe has been putting a great deal of effort into straining on and encouraging it to remain out in the fresh air. Not only are you battling with an object which is suddenly bigger than the hole it came out of but you also find yourself battling against the contractions of the ewe – not always the easiest of tasks.

Once back inside the sheep it is necessary to ensure it has gone all the way back in and turned back in on itself which necessitates your hand heading up her backside also. Bottles can sometimes be useful for this task (especially useful for a prolapse of the uterus).

I have on occasion tied a length of string from one back foot of the ewe to the other and then lifted her up onto her nose by looping the string over my shoulders, this not only helps keep the meaty bit clean but also helps everything drop back into place. Gravity and the fact the ewe can’t quite manage to push against you quite so well when she is standing on her nose! It is also possible to lift her back end up onto your knees and just have her bent like a banana below you.

Great! Much sweating, cursing and grunting and the offending article is back where it belongs, now what? Well, we would like it to stop there, it took a lot of effort to catch the sheep and replace her body parts, we don’t want to let her go and have her run away and spit it all out again. With blackfaced sheep it is relatively easy to sort by tying the wool. Strands of wool from either side of her backside are drawn across the offending orifice and tied in a reef knot, this is continued until all her privates are covered and tied in, she almost looks like she’s got a neat little woollen plait across her posterior – a new fashion accessory for sheep!

I say Blackfaced sheep are easily sorted this way, bear in mind that sheep are being bred with less wool these days and some of the barer skinned varieties don’t have the length of wool necessary to enable one to tie them in. Having said that of the three cheviot ewes I had on my night shift only one didn’t have sufficient wool to enable her to have her backside plaited. Over the years I have tied in many a mule sheep as well, even though they are supposed to be a barer skinned variety, you only need sufficient wool for it to join and be knotted.

Bare skinned sheep need something else to keep the offending article in place. Many use spoons – ewe trusses- plastic W shaped things which have a flat spatula type middle to them and two wings which have a hole for string to go through and are tied to the wool on the hips of the sheep or a string is tied around her chest to tie these strings to. I have never liked these spoons, I must be hopeless at using them as they either get pushed back out or else they seem to almost ‘cut’ into the sheeps backside, but then I very rarely have used them as I have never liked them and I’ve always been used to sheep with some wool to tie.

Prolapse harnesses are a great affair. Years ago, as a kid, I witnessed a pure bred Suffolk ewe being roped. A much revered retired shepherd was called in as a last resort to deal with a Suffolk who was determined to keep pushing out her lamb bed. I stood and watched as a length of old sisal rope was passed around her body, knotted, then passed around another part of her body, knotted again and so on until eventually the ewe was roped in. The positioning of the knots was hugely important as was the tension of the rope. Little did I know then, that I was witnessing the modern day prolapse harness.

Someone had the sense to use the knowledge of the older generation and produce a nylon webbing harness with quick release buckles to the exact design of the old roping technique and a darn sight easier. Anyone who finds themselves having any problems whatsoever with sheep prolapsing I would strongly advise they acquire some harnesses. The sheep can lamb through them, although the quick release catches are easily clipped free if it is seen the sheep is on lambing (on that note, sheep can also lamb through being tied in with wool). Once no longer required the harness can easily be washed and disinfected off ready for re use.

The other shepherd where I am lambing told me a sad tale, he had a ewe which had prolapsed, he drove her with one or two others to a net and went to catch her, she swung around and caught her backside on the fence post, the prolapse ruptured and burst......... Now what? There’s only one option and that is to put her out of her misery, the damage is beyond redemption. That is why it is necessary to apply firm but very careful pressure when replacing the fleshy mass.

Once lambed many of the sheep manage to keep their ‘bits’ where they belong, some however don’t and it is necessary to keep them tied in for a longer duration. I am a great believer of disposing of sheep from the flock which have prolapsed, the chances are high that the same problem will recur in the future.


hazelteaspoon said...

Hi, im wondering if you could give me some advice. Im living right next door to a field of pregnant ewes and the farmer has had three prolapses. He is blaming this on our dogs. The dogs are tied up at all times and driven miles away from the sheep to be walked, theyre not barking at the sheep, in fact all the dogs have been around sheep their whole lives and never worried them. The sheep are grazing happily yards from the dogs and are herded by sheepdogs on a regular basis. The sheep are also coughing heavily all night. Ive done some research and i cant find anything to suggest that just being near dogs can cause prolapse but coughing can. Have you ever heard of this happening? I could really use an independant opinion. thanks!

Tarset Shepherd said...

Hi there, am concerned to hear of your farmer who has had 3 prolapses, I'd change doctors if I was he :)

Sorry! just amused me!

All joking apart I can't say I have heard of dogs causing prolapses in sheep, if the dogs were stressing the sheep I could think of many problems that would arise but not convinced prolapses would be one of them.

I have hunted on Dr Daltons website - http://woolshed1.blogspot.com and here is a copy of what he blames prolapses on (they are called bearings in New Zealand) "Bearings can be caused by high pressure in the abdomen from a womb full of lambs, a rumen full of frothy herbage, a lot of fat in the abdomen and a full bladder. It’s possible to have a combination of these factors."

Generally it seems to be a muscle weakness, just as in women, which is triggered by the above factors amongst others. I must add though that I DO NOT know everything.

Hope this is of some help.