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Extract from Home Farm Magazine
No 106 June/July 1993 Copyright © Pam Shaw
Udder Care by Pam Shaw
With the exception of poultry, much of livestock rearing revolves around the female animal's ability to suckle her young so that they attain a fair weight at weaning.
Milking ability is dependent partly on conformation and genetic inheritance but also on the general health of the animal.
Udder health can be maintained throughout a long and productive life by careful observation and attention to details. Most at risk are poorly conformed udders. Those that are long and pendulous get trodden on by the animals themselves or by others. In the case of goats they tend to get caught on fences. My much-loved very first goat used to regularly come back in the evening with flaps of skin torn from her udder until we gave in and removed the top two barbed wire strands from the fence she insisted on jumping - luckily away from the farm and garden rather than towards it!
In sheep, large udders often get chilled in wet, cold weather. This can result in mastitis pre-lambing when the full but unsuckled udder is very susceptible to chilling. A preventive measure would be to take such ewes inside, at least at night. I will never forget the sight of a swollen purple udder on a ewe that had been normal the day before. Luckily this sort of mastitis seems reasonably easy to cure and can be cleared completely once the lambs are suckling.
Mastitis after lambing is a different matter however. This seems to crop up within the first three weeks after birth when the ewe is at her lowest ebb. Particularly prone are old ewes with large twins or triplets or shearlings with twins. It is difficult to predict which ewes are going to succumb and although not usually fatal it is hard to save the udder which will obviously result in extra lambs to rear artificially. Prevention is better than cure. If the sheep are inside bedding should be kept dry and clean. If outside give them clean grazing. Watch out for lambs that are continually going in to suck (do they need supplementary feeding?). Feed ewes two small feeds a day rather than one enormous feed - digestive upsets can trigger mastitis.
Also, look out for cuts on the teats which would allow infection to get in. Mastitis is caused by a variety of bacteria which are around most of the time anyway. Ewes develop the illness because their general health is poor or they are under stress which means that it can be said to come from the inside rather than the outside in.
Which-leads on to the next threat to udder health - Orf. Not all farms are troubled with this disease. Sheep that are hefted (bred to the area) usually develop immunity. This means however, that they will probably have a minor attack as lambs. When a lamb with Orf on its mouth suckles, the mother can develop it on her teats. Since most ewes are immune this doesn't happen very often but when a very young or every old ewe is in poor condition she could well develop the tell-tale sores. These will become open and bleeding and infected with secondary bacteria. Unless great care is taken, Mastitis will develop. The ewe is obviously unwilling to let the lambs suckle and the lambs go hungry and the ewe becomes sick. If sores form on the ewe's udder she and her lambs should be taken under cover so that the lesions can be dressed daily and the udder milked out. I use the usual Oxytetracycline spray, but also I massage the udder with udder cream because the spray on its own is too drying and causes the scabs to crack open.
To milk the ewe out with a minimum of distress for both of us I wrap a damp cloth round the teat to prevent blood and pus dripping into the milk. The milk can then be bottle fed to the lambs whose mouth sores should also be dressed with Tetracycline spray. The lambs might benefit from extra powdered milk feeding. Orf takes three weeks to run its course so it is a long and painful process although the actual milking out would probably only take a week. As most people know, it can also be caught by humans, but if you've been working with sheep for several years you'll be immune too. Otherwise wear surgical gloves. Some People consider vaccinating against Orf a safer bet, but it is a live vaccine and therefore risky to use so probably only worth it if you have a serious problem.
Your lambs are now well grown and ready for life on their own. The ewe needs a rest so you decide to wean her. All the mothers are put on bare grazing or straw and water like the book says. How come then that one will inevitably develop Mastitis? Well, it's the old story of Mastitis coming from the inside out. Maybe her mother was prone to the disease but you kept her because she was milky, or the ewe herself had previous udder damage. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be any logic to it. I have even had dried-off ewes develop it. Some people seal all their ewes' teats with dry cow penicillin tubes (a half tube to each teat) but this is expensive and rather, invasive and sometimes seems to do more harm than good. I milk out my milkiest ewes until they dry off naturally but then I keep them partly for this reason. Mastitis doesn't always strike the milkiest ewes anyway.
In the event that you get mastitis, how do you treat it? It can be treated homoeopathically of course, but I use antibiotics, mainly because I have many animals to look after and not a lot of time. But also because I have used these methods many times with a good success rate. In a not too serious case of Mastitis, penicillin injected once a day for four days combined with quick acting intramammary tubes and frequent stripping out (at least three times a day) should do the trick. Dispose of the strippings carefully. They are lethal! Mastitis can take many forms and sometimes change halfway.
Only someone who has felt an ice-cold udder turned indigo blue with that very distinctive smell of Udder clap, as the old shepherds call Black Udder, can appreciate the sinking feeling you get when you see it. The ewe is very sick, life threateningly so. She can die in 24 hours, or less. There is no time for a cup of tea and a think about it. This is definitely a 'Class A' emergency. She must be brought into the most comfortable area possible and injected immediately with a big dose of Intacycline repeated every 12 hours for a least four days. It is what our vet advises. The udder must be massaged and stripped out as much as possible. I use peppermint oil in all Mastitis cases because it stimulates blood circulation and therefore recovery. In Black Udder the gangrenous part of the udder will probably be past help anyway. Peppermint oil on its own is rather strong, but I can thoroughly recommend Body Shop peppermint foot lotion - it is excellent and too good to waste on feet!
Assuming the ewe survives the first 24 hours and starts to eat again, she will probably lose all or half her udder. It will drop off. The losing bit, which may come weeks later, is smelly and messy and can be nasty if there are flies around. The ewe sometimes has to be covered with a long-acting antibiotic injection and the open wound area must be sprayed with Oxytetracycline. Sheep do make remarkable recoveries. Whether or not you sell her in the Autumn depends on how attached you get to her during the struggle to make her live. We have a few one-teated ewes - invariably they have twins or triplets.
Apple cider vinegar is meant to be good for udder health and is quite palatable. I sometimes add it to my goats feed or for the milking sheep. It will be pretty obvious that with udders, prevention of disease is always preferable. A ewe or goat with a few Mastitis lumps will usually make up for the milking tissue lost, but the taste of the milk is spoilt.
Careful observation of stock at vulnerable times can save many hours of work caring for sick individuals.
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