Signs of Dead Lamb in Ewe

Lambing is the process of giving birth to lambs. It usually takes place after 5 months of pregnancy. A healthy ewe is characterised by a normal, unaided birth. Difficulty during the birthing process is often a sign of high stress or abortion. Abortion occurs due to a variety of reasons including infection and poor dietary plans. An important point to be aware of is that when left untreated, abortion can have detrimental effects on the health of pregnant sheep. As such, it is necessary to closely monitor pregnant sheep for any signs of dead lamb. Shepherds should equip themselves with necessary knowledge on the signs of dead lamb in ewe so as to handle the issue timeously therefore preventing adverse effects on the health and productivity of sheep.

Table of Contents

Complications during the Lambing Process

Ringwomb is a condition that results in failure of the cervix to dilate fully during the lambing process. It is one of the signs to lookout for when a lamb has died inside the ewe.  Studies indicate that complications during the lambing process are also among the common signs of dead lamb in ewes. Most ewes lamb unaided and approximately 95% of lambs are born within 5 hours which is considered as the ideal time for all three lambing stages. Delayed lambing may be due to a dead lamb. Under normal circumstances, the changes to the hormonal balance and the bulk of the uterine contents (the foetus and the placenta fluids) causes the uterus to contract pushing the foetus into the dilating cervix and expel it. However, when a pregnant sheep is experiencing abortion, the labour process is elongated. Since it is impossible for the dead lamb in ewe to aid in its birth process, the cervix does not relax and contract to allow expulsion of the foetus. An intervention is therefore necessary to remove the dead lamb before the ewe experiences further health complications.

To add on, in normal lambing the ewe’s physical appearance changes, with key indicators being the filling out of the udders and the caving in of her sides. Furthermore, the mucus plug is be expelled from her vulva. Note that although this may also happen, signs of dead lamb in ewe are indicated by failure of the lamb to come out. As such, farmers are advised to keep note of the exact lambing timeframe. Research states that once it is evident that a doe or ewe is about to give birth, it is extremely important that she be observed closely to make sure the process of parturition moves smoothly. This is also done to ensure the dead lamb is removed before rotting takes places.


The signs of dead lamb in ewe includes mucous plug discharge that is reddish or brown in colour around the tail of the sheep but with no sign of any lamb around the pasture fields. This mucus discharge can have a very bad odour that can be smelt when near the nesting place of the lamb. It is easier to notice this sign in comparison to behavioural changes. However, an important point to note is that abortion causing diseases of sheep are often transferrable to humans. As such, it is advisable to wear gloves and ash thoroughly after handling any aborted foetus or contaminated material. Also, just as these diseases can easily be transferred to humans, other animals can also be infected. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that infected animals are separated from the rest of the flock. Pregnant women should not handle sheep with dead ewe or foetal membranes since the bacteria is transferrable to humans.

Loss of Appetite

One of the main indications of healthy pregnant livestock is the increased demand in feed intake. Ewes carrying lambs, similar to all other animal species, are known to have heavy appetites and so readily consume provided feedstuff. This however changes when ewes are carrying dead lambs. Among the common signs of dead lamb in ewe is a poor appetite. While this may be due to other health related issues such as illness, it is necessary to check the ewe for any signs of abortion. Experts reveal that abortion is easily identifiable by a sudden restriction of feed intake and sometimes weakness. This is particularly when the energy intake of pregnant sheep is expected to be highest due to the growing foetus. Just as their feed in take would be low during this period, the same applies to the amount of water they drink.

Behavioural Changes

Signs of dead lamb in ewes also include behavioural changes. Ewes in such a state often isolate themselves from the rest of the flock. According to research, ewes with dead lambs are identifiable by a change in behavioural patterns. It is said that they tend to lie down more often without any activity. Signs of depression are visible. Additionally, the ewe may start salivate without any particular signs of mastitis. When signs of dead lamb in ewe are ignored, the foetus may rot resulting in severe health complications. Infection can enter the bloodstream of the pregnant ewes, consequentially death occurs. As such, it is of the utmost importance for farmers to pay close attention to pregnant sheep. Signs of dead lamb in may range from mild to severe, with worst cases being indicated by smelly discharge.


Treatment for signs of dead lamb in ewe usually involve inducing delivery to remove the foetus. In cases of rot, a caesarean section may be necessary. Note that abortion is often caused by poor nutrition and diseases. That being said, an ideal treatment is one that prevents the occurrence of abortion. Hypocalcaemia and toxaemia are the common causes of dead lamb in ewe. Proper feeding of the ewe and glucose supplements should be introduced as soon as possible to avoid pregnancy toxaemia. Calcium supplements such as calcium borogluconate can also be provided to avoid hypocalcaemia. Sheep can also be given proper feeding schemes whilst ensuring unnecessary stress to both the ewe and the foetus is avoided.

Early signs of dead lamb in ewe are usually difficult to identify as they are often mild. As time progresses, they become much more visible. It is essential to ensure that the dead lamb is removed from the ewe’s womb timeously to prevent further health complications. Another important aspect to be aware of is the cause of death so as to prevent future occurances. Also, vaccination should be provided during different stages of pregnancy as a means to protect pregnant sheep from abortion causing diseases and infection.