Sheep/Shepherding/my pet lamb


QUESTION: i have a ten week old pedigree suffolk gimmer lamb that walks about on her knees. when she was born she looked normal. then after a couple of weeks her knees started to bend. i took her to my vet and he said he thought it was her tendons that were very tight and they weren't growing as fast as the rest of her body. he strapped up her left leg for 2 weeks and she was walking on her right leg,but then i noticed her right knee was starting to bend and when the strapping came off she couldn't stand up,she has been on her knees ever since. i have been rubbing olive oil on her legs twice a day,as i heard it was a good thing to do. she is in good health and growing very fast,as suffolks do. i have been breeding suffolks 29yrs and i have never experienced this before. any ideas please?

So sorry about your little lamb.  Given the information, I am trying to share the best I can  diagnosing the problem.
Although the lamb may have appeared normal at birth, she may have been born with spider syndrome abnormality.  This appears more frequently in the Suffolk breed (75% of the time).

The cause of the condition appears to be genetic alteration due to selection for extreme length and height in show sheep. The disease is found predominantly in black-faced lambs: In order to have this disease, lambs must inherit a recessive gene from each parent.  While this happens more frequently affecting the spine, I have seen a few examples where it affects the legs. Not a good scenario.  On to my second cause:

Rickets.  This happens later between 6 month and 1 year but...

It can be prevented by 1) feeding balanced rations; 2) avoiding the use of too much high energy or high protein feeds (rapid growth and nutritionally "pushing" animals for growth is a factor in all species for increased incidence of rickets); 3) providing a calcium to phosphorus ratio of at least 1.5 to 1; 4) supplementing the ration with 300 IU of vitamin D (per 100 lbs of body weight per day); 5) providing adequate magnesium; 6) shearing young rams in early winter to allow more skin surface for vitamin D conversion; and 7) providing housing that provides good exposure to sun during the winter.

Lastly: While we are concerned with the lambs knees, perhaps the real issue is with the hoof. Please examine the hoofs  carefully. Are they hot? Are they swollen?  This may be the cause why the lamb is more comfortable on its knees.  Make sure the bedding and the area around is dry and clear of mold and moisture.  A course of Pen-B 48 every other day for a week will help if infection has set in and soaking the hooves in a Epson bath will help draw out any infection and give comfort to the little one.

I hope I have not confused you. It is more diffcult to diagnose without "hands on"!

Best wishes.


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QUESTION: as far as i can see my lambs feet are fine. her knees are bent and stiff and she cant stand because of this. my sister and i put some dressing on her legs today because her knees are swollen and hot,we put that down to her walking on them so much. i had a word with my vet today and he said it isn't rickets,he still thinks its her tendons that are tight. do you think it would help her if they cut her inner tendons? would it help her to walk?  the vet also said it could be schnalenberg disease. my other lambs seem to be normal,never had any problems with them so im doubting that very much. regards sue.

Hi Sue,
I contacted one of my major lamb producers and had that "ah ha!" moment.  Where you slap your head with hand, because I had overlooked the obvious.

My strongest diagnosis is a navel infection. The lamb will need a course of antibiotics like genamycin or strong penicillian and will recover nicely.

Best wishes!



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Kari Wempe


I can answer most questions about raising, breeding, feeding, showing,typical illnesses, pregnancy, birthing, bottle feeding,showing and sheering sheep. I have raised sheep for show and production for 20 years. The breeds of sheep I am most familier with are Crossbred, Suffolk, Hampshire- basically black face sheep. I deal with the classification of meat sheep over bred for wool sheep.


I have raised a flock of sheep for 20 years on our farm. Very involved in 4H, FFA aspects and their rules, jackpot shows, state, regional, county and local shows.

Experience is my best creditial however, I have a college education and have taught many classes ( in other catagories), so I am familiar in the ways of teaching others.

Awards and Honors
Many breed awards- champion and grand champion awards in Kansas for the past 20 years, showmanship awards at local and state level in Kansas.

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