Many conditions can cause abortions in sheep and goats. The most common are enzootic abortion, brucellosis, Rift Valley fever, Wesselsbron disease, stress and habitual abortion.
Enzootic abortion (chlamydiosis) is a contagious disease in sheep and goats. It occurs countrywide in South Africa, and may be found in the intestines of healthy animals.
The disease usually spreads during lambing and kidding. Sheep and goats pick up the organism by mouth when they graze in an area contaminated by infected afterbirth or uterine fluid. The lambs/kids can be infected during birth.
Outbreaks usually occur within a year or two of bringing the infected animals onto the farm. Chlamydial infection can remain dormant in the ewe lamb until she, in turn, aborts during her first pregnancy. The ewe shows no signs of illness.
The more intensive the enterprise, the more likely the disease will spread throughout the flock. Flocks infected for the first time may have an abortion incidence of up to 70%. An abortion can occur as early as three months, but the foetus is then usually re-absorbed. Spots of blood above the udder and on the hocks of the ewe may be the only sign of abortion.
Ewes may abort in the last month of gestation, or give birth to small, weak lambs that die shortly after birth, leading to a poor lambing percentage.
Chlamydiosis can be treated with prolonged, high doses of certain antibiotics, but this is usually neither practical nor economically feasible. Ask your animal health technician or state veterinarian for help.
Because of lamb deaths and the poor growth of lambs that survive, vaccination is essential. Oil-based, inactivated vaccines (manufactured by Onderstepoort Biological Products) can prevent abortions caused by chlamydial infection. In-lamb ewes can be safely inoculated, if necessary.
Vaccinate four to six weeks before the breeding season, as the vaccine will not give protection against abortion once the foetus has been infected.
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