Lambs and White Scours: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

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Treating lambs and white scours, a common and deadly sheep disease.

Treating lambs and white scours, learn requirements for specific medications and methods for treatment of this disease.

Lambs and White Scours: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

White scours is a dysentery-like malady that can — and frequently does — afflict lambs and calves within their first few weeks of life. (There’s also a black scours which affects cattle and sheep of all ages.) Any upset — including a trip through a sale yard, sudden change of diet, exposure to diseased animals, or overfeeding — can bring on the ailment.

The symptoms of white scours are fourfold. They include:

[1] Elevated temperature. For a lamb, that means anything over 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

[2] Runny, light-colored feces. (Healthy young lambs have yellow manure which — within a week after birth — changes to a normal brown color.)

[3] General weakness, characterized by an inability to stand up, lack of alertness, and disregard for food or drink.

[4] Increased susceptibility to secondary infections, such as pneumonia.

Bringing scours under control is a matter of giving the afflicted animal ample fluids to counteract the dehydrating effects of diarrhea, and administering antibiotics (e.g., neomycin) to eliminate the offending bacteria from the animal’s digestive tract. It’s also largely a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

Over the years, I’ve lost a number of beautiful animals to scours . . . so I speak from harsh experience when I offer the following tips, hints, and observations regarding the prevention and treatment of this affliction:

[1] Buy your lambs from individual farmers (rather than auctions) whenever possible, and quarantine all newly purchased infants for at least a month . . . especially if they’ve been through a sale yard. Auction pens breed a multitude of disease organisms that can easily be transmitted on the animals’ feet.

[2] Some folks believe that scours “gets in the barn”. I agree. When an outbreak of the disease occurs, it can be very helpful to move all animals to new quarters. The former area can then be cleaned, disinfected, and allowed to sit vacant for several months before animals are reintroduced into it.

[3) Take the temperature of any and all scouring animals on a regular basis . . . and if you happen to notice a fall in temperature, call the vet immediately. In my experience, a falling body temperature means the afflicted animal is fading fast.

[4] Remember that when you take a stool sample to a lab for a culture and an antibiotic sensitivity test (that is, a test to determine which antibiotics can “knock out” the bacteria in the lamb’s intestinal tract), the results of the test will be unreliable if the diseased animal was receiving antibiotics at the time the stool sample was collected. Collect a small amount of manure before you begin to give drugs to your scouring woolly (and store the manure at a low temperature . . . around 40 degrees Fahrenheit). Then — if the antibiotic you give your lamb fails to do the job — you can submit the already collected stool sample to a lab and learn the results of a reliable sensitivity test.

[5] Don’t give tetracycline antibiotics (Terramycin et al ) to any animal that’s being fed milk. (Calcium interacts with tetracyclines to reduce their effectiveness.) Instead, administer sulfa drugs or a broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as neomycin. (Neomycin is excellent for treating scours, but bacteria very quickly become resistant to it if the drug is not used properly. Ask your veterinarian for advice on how much of this antibiotic to administer, and how frequently . . . then follow that advice to the letter.)

[6] Over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications meant for humans are sometimes useful in treating animals with scours. (My friend Theresa administers 6-cc doses of Kaopectate once per feeding to her scour-ridden lambs using a small, needle-less plastic syringe.)

While I’ve had some miraculous successes in treating animals with scours, I’ve also cried a good many tears for those critters I’ve lost to the disease. (The sad fact is that around 90% of all lambs and calves that develop a full-blown case of scours die.) Out of each experience,though, I’ve gained additional knowledge. And my fastest learning has come through tragedy.

Here’s hoping that you’ll be able to prevent most cases of scours in your lambs before they arise . . . and that you’ll be able to cure the few cases that you couldn’t prevent.

Sheep Resources: Help For the Small-Scale Sheepherder

All of the following titles can be obtained from any good bookstore . . . and all except for book number three can be ordered by mail from MOTHER’s Bookshelf, P.O. Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28739. (Do remember to enclose 75 cents for postage and handling if you order by mail, though.)

[1] Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy (Rodale Press, 1976). Paperback. $3.95. This book has been used faithfully by England’s organic farmers since it first appeared in that country in 1952. It includes herbal remedies for ailments that afflict sheep, sheep dogs, goats, cows, horses, poultry . . . even bees!

[2] Raising Sheep the Modern Way by Paula Simmons (Garden Way, 1976). Paperback. $5.95. The author — who’s raised woollies herself for more than 20 years — describes every conceivable aspect of small-scale sheep management in this book. Contains a separate chapter on orphan lambs.

[3] The Sheepman’s Production Handbook (Sheep Industry Development Program, Inc., 200 Clayton St., Denver, Colo. 80206). $12.50. Well worth the price if you’re thinking of growin’ more than just a few sheep for personal use. Covers genetics, reproduction, health, nutrition, management practices, and marketing.

[4] The Shepherd’s Guidebook by Margaret Bradbury (Rodale Press, 1977). Hard cover. $7.95. An excellent all-around guide to the art of raising woollies, with a section on orphan lambs. Notable for its chapters on wool and sheepskins, preparing sheep for show, and home butchering.

In addition to the foregoing reference works, you might find Sheep Breeder and Sheepman magazine ($5.00 per year — 12 issues — from Livestock Services, P.O. Box 796, Columbia, MO 65201) worth reading. It contains articles about all facets of the sheep industry, and resource information concerning breeders of registered animals.

Another exceedingly useful (in my opinion) journal for the small-scale sheepherder is The Idaho Farmer Stockman. (A year’s subscription
— 20 issues — costs $5.00 if you live in Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Montana, or Wyoming . . . $8.00 if you reside elsewhere. Write to Suite 101, 413 W. Idaho St., Boise, Idaho 83702.) Although the publication is agribiz-oriented, it does — none-the-less — offer a wide variety of articles of interest to the small-livestock producer, homemaker, and gardener . . . and the editors don’t shun “organic” methods.

Finally, there’s The Shepherd (which bills itself as the National Journal of Sheep Production and Management). This little magazine is jam-packed with well-researched, readable, helpful articles for both large- and small-scale sheepherders . . . and at $4.95 per year (12 issues), the price is certainly right. Make your remittance to The Shepherd. Sheffield, MA 01257.

Read more about adopting orphan lambs: You Can Adopt an Orphan Lamb.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368