|Bloat is a hideous way to lose sheep. If the information on this page can help prevent the loss of a sheep to bloat, it will have been worth my time to put this information here. In the simplest of explanations, bloat is an excess of gases in the rumen of sheep. But it should always be considered an emergency situation. When sheep consume lush pastures heavy in legumes - clover, alfalfa - the gases in their rumen cannot escape fast enough. These rapidly fermenting foods produce gases more quickly than sheep can digest. Sheep can also bloat on grain, which is very dangerous if they consume too much grain, especially in the hot, humid weather, or when not acclimated to grain.
From Dr. Henderson's "The Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers" we learn the clinical signs of bloat: "If bloated sheep are still on their feet when found, they may stand very stiffly with their legs wide apart. They may pant excessively and stagger about if moved. They urinate and attempt to dung frequently. A swelling will be seen in the animal's left flank and also on the right side in advanced cases. The pressure of the swollen rumen presses on the diaphragm, causing difficulty in breathing and finally suffocation and heart failure."
Dr. Henderson goes on to say: "Prevention is difficult, since many of the methods advocated are impractical. Restricting grazing time or total avoidance of suspect or obviously dangerous pastures is the safest approach."
However, those unsafe pastures, rich in alfalfa which can nourish lactating ewes in the spring, so that they produce abundant and rich milk for their lambs, is something that can be managed if the shepherd has the time to turn sheep out several times per day, for very short periods of time. It takes about 10 days to change over the bacteria in the rumen (especially crucial when going from winter hay feeding to putting sheep on fresh spring pasture). Keeping that time frame in mind, one approach is to try to get sheep to fill up on hay in the early a.m. and turn them out onto the pasture for periods as little as ten minutes, several times a day. Gradually increasing the exposure to pasture will give their rumens time to adjust to the new, lusher feed. This is of course time consuming, and moving sheep back in when they are eager to eat that fresh green grass is not easy to do. That was one of the reasons we acquired our Icelandic sheep dog - so that she could help me round up the sheep from the fields.
From a wonderful sheep book written in 1947 called "Sheep Science" we read: "Certain individuals bloat to some extent on almost any kind of feed. Bloating is characterized by great distention of the upper left side of the abdomen.... Nursing lambs seldom bloat seriously (but bottle fed lambs can bloat, see remedy at right)."
It's important to know that sheep can bloat on hay too, especially risky is a sudden change to a heavy alfalfa hay. In making any changes to sheeps' diet, always make the changes slowly and gradually, including feeding them corn and grain.
Prevention is obviously desired, but even the most vigilant shepherds lose sheep to bloat. Knowing that some individuals are prone to bloat, makes this perhaps one of nature's ways of culling, as gruesome and sad as it can be.
One shepherd suggests putting out pans of baking soda next to the free choice minerals in the spring and that the sheep eat it up as they get used to the spring pastures. I have not tried that here yet. There are commercial bloat preventatives, but most are formulated for cattle and may contain too much copper, which is not safe for sheep.
|Some Bloat Remedies|
|Treatment of bloated sheep consists of measures that will stop the formation of additional gas and will assist in the removal of the gases already present. Sheep can also bloat on grains; recommended treatments for both grain and frothy (pasture) bloat are not the same. You can buy a commercial "bloat guard" to keep on hand to administer orally to the sheep in an emergency. If you don't have any of this on hand, you can try the following:
Bloat Remedy #1
Using a syringe, squire 3-4-5 cc of CASTOR OIL down the throat. After administering this successfully, you will have to feed the sheep 1/2 cc of Neomycin Sulfate (an antibiotic) to restart the rumen.
Bloat Remedy #2 (Grain Bloat)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable or mineral oil
2 tbsp baking soda. Mix well and put into a soda bottle. Use one cup for a full grown sheep.
Bloat Remedy #3 - Dill Weed
My friend Char from Darn-it-Chars has successfully used dill weed to treat bloated sheep. This is her recipe:
3 cups water
2 tsps of dill weed (dried)
Get water boiling and steep dill weed in a tea ball or you can strain dill after boiling. Leave dill for about 5 minutes in the hot water, and then cool tea down. Strain dill out before administering dill weed tea orally to sheep. Give the tea to the sheep via a large 60cc syringe (this will be 2 oz. of the tea at a time), letting them swallow as normally as possible so they don't choke. Give more as needed (until sheep begins to burp up the excess gas, relieving pressure on the bloated rumen.
If you don't have dill weed, you can boil dill seed -- use about 1/2 cup of dill seed to 3 cups water to make the tea.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy in her book "The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable" writes that dill is used as a "treatment of all digestive ailments, including colic, diarrhoea, fevers." She recommends one handful of the seeds to be fed raw, mixed with bran, twice daily. The leaves are also useful. (p63)
Char also has had good luck using "human" Gas-X tablets to treat bloated sheep.
Bloat Remedy #3 Frothy Bloat
(for lambs on bottles)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger in 2 tbsp. water and shoot it down the throat with a syringe.
NOTE: To PREVENT bloat in bottle fed (milk replacer) lambs, one veterinarian recommends to put .5ml of penicillin in the milk bottle to prevent bloat, especially in the 4 week stage when it seems to happen more often. Put the penicillin in the bottle for the first bottle of the day, although I'm not sure for how many days!
Be sure to consult your sheep books or your veterinarian. They will recommend other methods that may include more difficult remedies to administer such as forcing a hose down the gullet and in extreme emergency situations, a hole can be made in the rumen to let gases escape.
Here are some Internet resources on the subject of bloat and sheep:
Preventing pasture bloat in sheep
Manage grazing to beat bloat
|Please note: Bloat caused by lush pastures (rich with legumes like alfalfa and clover) is different than bloat caused by overeating of grain, which is more appropriately titled: "Grain Poisoning." Grain poisoning can take over 24 hours after consumption to show that the animal is very sick and it is much more difficult to treat. Click here to read a good pdf file about grain poisoning. The treatments I outline here have worked for us to treat pasture bloat, not grain poisoning.Unfortunately we lost a very nice ewe to grain poisoning when she got into the barn and knocked over a container of corn. We did not know she was sick until it was too late to treat her.|