Mastitis is the term given to a bacterial infection in the udder of an animal.
It is a very common occurrence in both sheep and cattle during lambing/calving season and can prove costly for farmers. In general, it usually occurs in animals raising more than one lamb or with an excessively high rate of milk production.
Some cases occur when sheep are being grazed at too high of a stocking rate, though the vast majority of all mastitis cases in sheep occur within a few weeks of lambing OR just as weaning is due to start. The infection occurs when bacteria make their way through the udder of the ewe. It is most common in breeds known to produce multiple offspring per lambing, such as the Dorset Horn, Suffolk, Finnsheep, Romanov sheep and Icelandic breeds.
Forms of the disease -
There are two different types of mastitis in sheep, clinical and subclinical.
Subclinical mastitis is a difficult one to identify and ewes tend to only show low growth rates when affected. Poor weather and a lack of adequate nutrition can cause subclinical mastitis to develop into clinical mastitis. Subclinical mastitis can also cause the death of twin lambs.
Clinical mastitis refers to an infection that rapidly progresses, eventually turning parts of the udder black. Ewes usually appear lame and weak, with lambs also lethargic and depressed. Lambs can die as a result of a lack of milk when ewes have clinical mastitis and they can die from the infection gained from digesting the infected milk. It is advised to put down any sheep that do not respond to treatments for clinical mastitis.
When treating mastitis, early detection is key and can prevent further spreading of the infection. Your Vet will provide you with an antibiotic and painkiller for your animal. It is advised to mark all ewes once treatment occurs, so you know which to cull at weaning.
Top Tips to prevent mastitis-
- Always provide adequate nutrition/feed to your flock. This is paramount as maintaining a ewes BCS at 3 (lowland) or 2.5 (upland) will ensure your ewes can produce enough milk for their young, without losing their own BCS.
- Ewes feeding more than one lamb should be given extra feed. This will not only provide them with the strength to fight off any potential mastitis infection but will also help prevent teat damage and maximise the growth of lambs.
- Older ewes should be supplemented with extra feed. Lambs feeding off older ewes should also be supplemented, to ensure they reach target weights.
- Cull any ewes showing potential signs of future mastitis infections. These signs include damaged skin on udders, misshaped udders and teats positioned away from the usual positions. Also consider culling any ewes with poor udder conformation at weaning time.
- Keep ewes out of wet and windy weather conditions. These conditions can cause chafing of the udder and in turn, lead to mastitis.
- Make hygiene a priority. As is the case with most diseases, having good hygiene practices in place will go a long way to preventing mastitis infections. Avoid keeping stock in areas which are muddy and wet during the first 6-8 weeks of lactation. At housing, regularly clean out pens where ewes are kept. Don’t forget that Ewes tend to lie on their bellies, meaning their udders are one of the first body parts to come in contact with the ground. Having pens as clean as possible will prevent dirt/bacteria entering the teats and thus, prevent infection.