Preventing Ewe Mastitis

Lambing time is the danger period of the year for ewes. From twin lamb disease, to prolapses and difficult lambings, to uterine infections- all are seen just prior to, at or just after lambing, and the incidence of all of them can be reduced by good preparation in the pre-lambing period.

Ewe mastitis is often seen later on, with peaks in incidence occurring at 3-4 and 8 weeks post-lambing, but again pre-lambing management can help prevent it.

Ewes are exposed to the two most common bacterial causes, Mannheimia haemolytica (found in lambs’ throats) and Staphylococcus aureus (found on the teat skin), all day, every day. How then do they go on to cause mastitis, and how do we stop that happening?

These bacteria enter the udder when the natural defences are impaired. This might occur through orf infection of the teat, which removes naturally occurring collections of protective inflammatory cells, or through physical damage of the teat. The most common cause of teat damage is the lamb – either through lambs struggling with poorly positioned teats, or through hungry lambs suckling time and again, trying to get enough milk.

Prevent mastitis by ensuring that ewes are vaccinated against orf, if you commonly see it in young lambs (do not vaccinate if you don’t have a problem, as it is a live vaccine, so you will just introduce it to the farm). Make sure that ewes are able to meet lambs’ demands through good pre-lambing and post-lambing nutrition, and ensuring ewes lamb down in the correct body condition.

At weaning, check the udders of all ewes for evidence of mastitis (hard lumps, misshapen bags, thick cords in the centre of teats), and cull those with these signs. Consideration should also be given to culling ewes with particularly oddly positioned teats – thinking of a clock face, we don’t want any signalling half-six or quarter-past-nine!

If, despite sorting all these, you are running a high rate of mastitis (8-10% or above), then consideration may be given to the use of the new mastitis vaccine, VIMCO.

Finally, remember that prompt and aggressive treatment of mastitis with injectable broad-spectrum antibiotics, NSAIDs (e.g. Metacam) and good supportive care, gives the ewe the best likelihood of recovery.

If you would like to discuss ewe mastitis prevention or treatment, or any aspect of sheep health and husbandry, please don’t hesitate to contact us.