2014-03-17   facebooktwitterrss

Reducing the Risk of Mastitis

Do shearling ewes need different management at lambing to reduce the risk of Mastitis?

Last spring saw a higher number of mastitis cases being reported, probably related to the poor spring and cold weather. Some producers made up for the shortfall in grass by feeding concentrates for longer, which reduced the risk of mastitis, but increased costs. Hopefully, a better spring this year may reduce the nutritional stress on ewes, allowing them to maintain condition better and reducing mastitis risks.

Ewe and Lamb

photo © farm-images.co.uk

EBLEX has been funding research on mastitis in ewes at Warwick University for the last five years. The work is being led by Professor Laura Green and is producing some interesting and useful results, which are increasing our knowledge about the importance of feeding, particularly for younger ewes.

Udder condition is the most common reason for culling younger ewes (two to four years old), which means that mastitis has a major role in reducing the productivity of ewes and increasing replacement costs.

Part of the work has focused on how the presence of teat lesions (bites, tears or grazes) can lead to reduced growth rates in lambs and an increased risk of mastitis. The results show teat lesions are significantly higher in shearlings (lambing at two years old) compared with six year old ewes.

Lambs on first-time mothers have been found to spend more time suckling, which increases the risk of damage to the teat. It is likely that this is due to the lower milk yield in younger ewes, as udder development is only really beginning.

One of the clear messages coming out of Warwick University’s work, therefore, is the need to think more carefully about shearling ewe management.

Further work shows teat lesions, and the risk of mastitis, increase when shearlings have a body condition score of less than three, as the ability to satisfy the lambs’ demand for milk is lower. It is likely that low condition score leads to longer or more vigorous suckling, as lambs try and stimulate milk production and let down.

Good nutritional management is crucial for optimum condition score and to reduce mastitis risks, particularly for younger ewes which are dealing with significant changes. When there is poor grass availability (sward height less than 4cm) or the group has lower than ideal body condition, supplementary feed may be needed until grass can meet their demand. If possible, manage thin and younger ewes in a separate group, so supplementary feed can be strategically used.

The research project has not looked at the impact of lambing as a ewe lamb on the risk of mastitis, but there are clear guidelines (from BRP+ Breeding from Ewe Lambs) that suggest only allowing them to rear one lamb should reduce the risk of udder damage.

Lactating ewe lambs require 20% more feed than mature ewes, which is important to remember when planning where they will be grazed. Their lambs should be creep fed and weaned early (from eight to nine weeks of age) to allow the ewe lamb sufficient time to continue to grow.

Other factors known to help reduce mastitis risks are:

  • Clean and dry conditions at lambing

  • Avoid chilling of the udder soon after lambing, which can result from turning out too soon or in poor weather


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