Sheep Tip of the Week: Wax Plugs in Ewes (It’s Lambing Season!)

If you own sheep, chances are you have heard from a veterinarian or read during your own research that sometimes you need to help unplug the wax from a ewe’s teats after they’ve given birth.

Sometimes the wax plug will come out itself, and you won’t have to do anything. Sometimes the lamb will get it off herself. Sometimes it won’t come out.

First thing is first: You should ALWAYS check to make sure the ewe a) has milk and b) after a few minutes of lamb nursing, that the milk is flowing.

Lambs die quiet deaths of starvation, so if you never confirm that mama ewe has milk and that it is freely flowing, then you might as well blame yourself for a starved lamb.

That being said, you only need one person to check the ewe and unplug her teat. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1) Make sure the ewe is in an enclosed space. You probably should be doing this for lambing’s sake anyway.

Step 2) Corner her and, facing her rear, pin her against a wall with your hip. You can pin a ewe at her shoulder without hurting her neck and she’s probably not going anywhere. Sometimes I tie mine up if they’re particularly wild, but other people seem to have more docile sheep than I do.

Step 3) Reach down and confirm there is milk in her bag. Honestly, you should have been checking her anyway over the past weeks to see when she’s going to deliver. BUT here are some cardinal signs of milk being present:

– Her bag will be very swollen, if not full

– It will feel firm yet also as though it is full of liquid. Think a bursitis issue on the knee of a horse, y’know? Firm, full of liquid.

– It will feel warm. NOT HOT. If it is more than just body-temperature or slightly-above, then there may be issues with infection/mastitis.

– It will not be rock hard. That is also an issue.

Step 4) After you’ve confirmed there is milk there* you will milk the teat. Doing this, you grasp above the nipple (Way above the nipple) and milk downwards. You may get lucky and find that on the first milking stroke the wax seal has already been broken, and you’ll see or feel milk on your hands. However, it may take a few minutes of this.  If it takes longer than maybe… ten minutes, you may need to call your vet. Vets can administer shots of hormones that may help boost milk production in sheep. However, if no milk comes, you need to get colostrum and milk into that baby. Immediately

I hope this helps! As always, I’m not a vet so you if you have questions or an emergency, don’t post a comment here, CALL YOUR VET!

Pip pip,

Jenn

*I had one lambing year when two ewes, seasoned ones at that, never gave milk. We couldn’t figure it out; they got the proper amount of hay, grain supplement, mineral blocks, and water. It was a hard year, to say the least, and it absolutely does happen!

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