Of the various unpleasantries that can accompany sheep farming, the prolapsed uterus is a particularly unwelcome trouble. Fortunately, a pessary can successfully permit farmers to prosthetically secure the uterus, even through lambing, until a veterinarian can surgically address the animal’s condition.
Pessaries have been used for womankind for millennia: The first mention of a device to assist with symptoms of female pelvic disorders was described by Hippocrates in 400 BC. Women experiencing pelvic organ prolapse (POP) could be inverted on a ladder-like frame and vigorously shaken to move their organs back into place.
Modern pessaries have evolved from such ancient ladder-like contraptions, and are available in varied forms. In sheep, these are used either for the vaginal placement of hormones via an impregnated sponge, or as a “prolapse retainer,” as discussed herein.
Ewes suffering from a prolapsed uterus require prompt attention. Only the largest of sheep farms is likely to keep pessaries on hand, so a veterinarian is likely the quickest source to secure one. If time allows, pessaries can be purchased online affordably.
Exposed tissue should be cleaned gently with warm soapy water; the moisture also assists reinserting the uterus. After the uterus is pushed back into position (no vigorous shaking required), the pessary is inserted to hold the uterus in place. The pessary has a small arm on each side, intended to be woven into the sheep’s wool as anchor. In practice, these arms can untangle and release, necessitating a rewashing and replacing of the uterus. It is thus recommended that the pessary arms be further secured with string (that leftover string from grain bags works well!).
Tip: When pushing the uterus back in, it is helpful to position the ewe over a square bale of hay. If she fights, she can’t collapse to the ground. It also helps to prevent her from spinning or running off.
The condition of prolapsed uterus is a distressing experience in sheep farming, and often ends very badly. But if a pessary can serve to get a ewe through lambing, it’s worth every effort to try.
In farming, as in life, something always seems to go awry…. If animal husbandry was easy, it wouldn’t be worth learning. (For a recent video of me with my sheep in Vermont, visit youtube).
John Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operated an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. Connect with John on Facebook, and watch his farming videos on YouTube. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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