The recent inclement weather, along with challenging ground conditions, low grass dry matter and poor utilisation, is putting ewes lambed a few weeks and approaching peak milk yield under greater nutritional stress.

Hygiene, in some cases, has been lower than optimum, which is not surprising given ewes have been retained indoors for longer and those outdoors are witnessing ground conditions deteriorate on a daily basis.

There has been a slight increase in the number of cases of mastitis reported and there is a risk of issues establishing on farms.

Sub-optimum intake and a resultant lower milk yield is regularly linked to cases of mastitis where lambs are suckling vigorously and a ewe’s teats become sore, leading to a reluctance to stand for lambs to suckle.

Type of mastitis

Treatment options and the chances of recovery depend on the type of mastitis present.

The characteristic symptoms of peracute or gangrenous mastitis is severe depression, ewes ceasing eating, dehydration and a swollen mammary gland that turns from warm at the start of the infection to a blue discoloration.

In the worst-case scenario, the mammary gland can become rotten and fall away.

Acute mastitis can be identified by a warm, swollen, red gland that can possess normal or abnormal looking milk. The gland is typically painful to touch and leads to ewes often walking lame in trying to avoid touching the gland with their leg.

The other forms are chronic mastitis, which often go unnoticed, and subclinical mastitis, which is also hard to identify.

The first sign is often lambs thriving poorly or sucking continuously. This form can progress to clinical forms described above.

Treatment options

Treatment of all forms generally includes administering a course of antibiotics, with veterinary advice to segregate affected animals from the flock.

If multiple cases arise, it is advised to collect a sample for laboratory analysis and to allow a targeted treatment programme. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with pain-relieving action are also prescribed by some vets.

It is best to segregate ewes and their lambs, particularly where there is a risk of cross-suckling indoors.

A decision will also need to be made on whether the ewes' lamb(s) should be removed, depending of the severity of disease.


The best form of defence is implementing high standards of hygiene and ensuring the nutritional requirements of ewes are satisfied as near as possible.

With regards hygiene for ewes and lambs housed for a significant period of time, applying lime before replenishing straw or along barriers, water troughs, etc, will help to keep disease levels at bay.

Where ewes are outdoors and underfoot conditions are challenging, moving feeding troughs regularly (where applicable) and targeting grazing in drier areas may help.

Close attention should also be placed on aged or hogget ewes or those under extra nutritional stress, such as ewes rearing triplet lambs.

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Mastitis in ewes greatly underdiagnosed