Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Mastitis concern raised at Challenge Sheep discussion groups

Over the Summer, the second round of Challenge Sheep discussion groups have been held on the 12 participating farms, focussing on the data collected after the 2018 lambing season. Following a poor spring, attendees across the groups have reported a noticeable rise in cases of Mastitis. Dr Liz Genever discusses why this may have happened and what farmers should be doing to address the rise, ahead of tupping.


We’ve just finished running all of our Challenge Sheep discussion groups and have had a reoccurring topic across all events with attendees. Mastitis and sore teats have been common this year, in both replacements that we are following for the project but also the wider flock too.

This year’s weather is likely to have had an impact on mastitis. The cold and slow spring, which led to poor nutrition for ewes may have reduced milk yields, leaving lambs to damage the udders when trying to get the milk out. As a result, infections are then common in teats or in the udder. If ewes are cold, wet and hungry, they are more likely to be susceptible to infection.

At the groups, there was a lot of talk about mastitis in ewes with older lambs. This could be due to reduced milk yields from lack of forage supplies, with lambs still demanding milk and therefore damaging udders. In some cases this leads to mastitis.

Udder with acute mastitis

As we know, mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland, usually caused by bacterial infection. But we don’t always think about it as an infectious disease, similar to lameness. Lumps that are felt inside udders are normally abscesses and can vary in size. The abscesses can burst and re-infect the udders, meaning lambs can then spread the infection by cross suckling. If the ewe’s udders are sore, cross suckling is more likely to increase as she will knock the lambs off.

With the current weather conditions reducing grass and forage supplies on farms around the country, it is crucial that only productive breeding animals remain in the flock this autumn. It’s now the time of year that ewe’s udders will be examined generally once they have dried off and before they head towards tupping.

After the bad spring and with farmers noticing a rise in mastitis, it’s is likely that harder culling on udders may be needed. This is justified due to the need to prioritise resources for your best ewes.

Previous research has shown that lambs from ewes with lumps in the udder grow slower, which can have an impact financially. There is also research to suggest that ewes with lumps are at a greater risk of developing mastitis in the next lactation.

Estimates suggest that mastitis costs the UK sheep industry more than £120 million per year in direct and indirect costs. It is ranked as one of the most important diseases affecting ewes. For this reason, farmers should be assessing udders now ahead of tupping and making the best decisions for their flock.

There is more information about tackling mastitis here in the Better Returns Plus – Understanding mastitis in sheep document. https://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/BRP-plus-Understanding-mastitis-in-sheep-180716.pdf