Sheep mastitis death warning in dry summer

Weaning lambs at 10-12 weeks of age could have saved many ewes from fatal mastitis cases as flocks struggled in dry conditions this summer, says a leading autopsy veterinarian.

Dry conditions have limited milk production and grass availability for young lambs, leading to over-vigorous suckling and elevated ewe mortality, said Ben Strugnell of Farm Post Mortems, County Durham.

Mastitis bacteria living in the back of the lambs’ throats are an infection risk. However, some farms managed this by weaning lambs promptly, he said.  

See also: Tips on tackling mastitis in sheep

Planning ahead with post-weaning lamb ground was very important – for example, having herbal leys or aftermaths for turning weaned lambs on to.

“Weaning at 12 weeks makes sense because the proportion of the total energy and protein supply coming from milk is negligible at that stage,” said Mr Strugnell.

“Moreover, ewes start competing with lambs for available grass, which in dry conditions makes lamb growth rates worse.”