What is a bearing?
- A bearing is a mass of flesh bulging from the vulva of a heavily pregnant ewe.
What causes it?
- A bearing occurs when the vagina is pushed inside-out.
- Sometimes the uterus is included in the prolapse too.
- It’s a very ugly sight, and it can be very difficult to deal with.
- Several factors contribute to bearings, including high pressure in the abdomen as a result of a womb full of lambs, a rumen full of frothy herbage, a lot of fat in the abdomen and a full bladder.
- The risk of bearings can be reduced by ensuring a steady supply but not an overabundance of quality pasture.
- Keep at-risk ewes off hilly land as lambing approaches, and perhaps encourage them to take gentle regular daily exercise.
- It is important to check all ewes in late pregnancy at least once daily for the first sign of bearings.
- Bearings are easier to treat at an early stage than when the bearing has dried out and become damaged.
- In advanced cases the most humane option may well be euthanasia.
- It is important to use only humane methods to replace and retain bearings
- If there is any doubt about what to do or how to do it, you must call a veterinarian.
- Treatment involves very gently cleaning and replacing the vagina.
- Holding the prolapse up to allow the bladder to empty before trying to replace it is important, and facing the ewe downhill or elevating her hind end can help.
- Lubricant is useful too.
- Antibiotic injections are necessary to prevent serious womb infections.
- Once the bearing has been replaced, it must somehow be retained or it will prolapse again.
- Commercial plastic bearing retainers can be inserted into the vagina and tied to the wool to keep them in place.
- The gentlest method of retaining prolapses involves tying wool over the vulva.
- Another simple and often effective technique involves using a length of baling twine. This is placed across the back in front of the pelvis bones (pin bones), brought down the sides of the ewe, passed inside each hind leg, crossed over the vulva and tied back onto itself where it goes over the ewe’s back in front of the pin bones. The string should be sufficiently tight to prevent the prolapse from recurring.
- There are other methods of retaining bearings, some of which involve stitching or using metal clips to keep the vulva closed. This type of procedure is only acceptable if it is carried out skillfully and hygienically. If in doubt - call your veterinarian.
- Remove retainers before lambing
- Although ewes can sometimes push lambs out past retainers, the retainers should be removed whenever lambing begins, and stitches or clips must be removed before lambing.
- Shearers don’t like finding retainers or twine in the fleece. Make sure all of it has been removed.