By Poppy Frater

SAC sheep specialist

Prolapses are one of those problems without a satisfying explanation. They are horrible to deal with and, in some cases, lead to ewe death.

The predominant theory is that they arise due to bulk of feed passing through the digestive system, putting pressure on the reproductive tract. Low quality forage can add to the problem. Following a bad silage making year for many, it is no surprise that we are hearing of more prolapse issues this year, so what can we do now?

Account for silage quality. We know that ewes will eat more of higher quality forage compared to lower quality material. If you have an analysis done, we can adjust the concentrate feed to account for this.

In the last three weeks, on good silage (>11.5MJ ME/kgDM), we estimate they will eat 1.7% of their bodyweight. So, for a 75kg ewe on a 30% dry matter silage, that is 4.2kg of silage.

They will require a lot less concentrate compared to those on a poorer quality silage; e.g. same ewes on a 9.5MJ ME/kg DM silage of similar dry matter percentage, the intake drops to 3.5kg per ewe per day. Knowing the quality, means we can understand the intake and adjust the additional feed to minimise the bulk.

Feed singles, twins and triplets separately. Those carrying more lambs are more susceptible; make sure they are on more of the energy dense feeds to give them adequate energy and protein. Multiples should be allocated the best quality forage available. Where possible, account for ewe condition in the feeding too; prolapses occur more frequently in thin and fit ewes – feed the fit ewes less and the thin ewes more.

Provide minerals; calcium is required for muscle fibres so it should be provided in the minerals.

Prolapses must be treated quickly to reduce infection risk. They should be cleaned and pushed back gently. One of the best methods is to use caster sugar to dry up the prolapse and cause it to contract before putting the harness on. A hose of cold water over the prolapse has the same effect. A prolapsed ewe should receive antibiotics.

What can we do for next year? It starts with quality forage and appropriate rationing based on forage analysis. Avoid putting multiples on steep sloping fields and consider ways to exercise the ewes to build muscle integrity.