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One of the few occasions that sheep veterinarians are presented with an individual animal is at the point of parturition. Whatever the circumstances, ‘the only criterion for success is a normal healthy lamb [and] a normal healthy ewe’ (Hindson and Winter 2007). Despite cases often being neither ‘normal’ nor ‘healthy’ at examination, it is paramount that veterinary success rates are optimised to encourage farmers to request veterinary assistance. In a survey undertaken by veterinary students on their lambing placements, veterinary assistance was requested for only 22 of 359 ewes with dystocia that could not be resolved on farm (Scott 2003). The only alternative to veterinary consultation was casualty slaughter although, in an disturbing breach of acceptable welfare, over three-quarters of these ewes were not humanely destroyed.
It is usually the more valuable ewes that are brought to the vet with dystocia although, in my experience, there are still a number of commercial sheep farmers who will ‘do the right thing’ despite the economics of individual ewe caesareans. Usually the farm personnel have already intervened, so there may be complicating issues, but previous work has shown good outcomes from ovine caesareans, with a 98 per cent survival rate for ewes with live or recently dead lambs in utero at presentation or a 57 per cent success rate when the lambs were at a moderate or advanced state of autolysis or emphysema (Scott 1989).
The veterinary skills required to treat a ewe with dystocia include rapid decision making as to whether manual or surgical intervention is required and, subsequently, good surgical technique to result in a live healthy ewe with live healthy offspring. Hence, it is valuable to …
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