Reducing udder damage in ewes
Teat and udder damage in ewes is very serious and can result in up to:
- 42% less milk produced
- 42% lower lamb survival
- 21% slower growth in surviving lambs.
Causes of teat and udder damage
Causes of teat and udder damage include:
- shearing cuts - cuts to the actual teat canal, which when healed do not let milk pass down the duct past the scar tissue
- mastitis - infection of the udder that makes it hard, swollen and painful and often dries up the milk. In general there is a low incidence of mastitis in sheep, so it has little impact on rates of lamb loss
- abnormally large or blocked teats - also called bottle teats, happens when the teats have their ends cut off during shearing or crutching, making it difficult or impossible for newborn lambs to commence suckling.
How to reduce teat and udder damage
A few simple procedures can reduce the incidence of ewes with damaged teats and udders, and the impacts this has on reproduction rates and lamb growth.
The high incidence of udder damage at weaner shearing can be reduced by delaying the first shearing until 12 months of age when the teats are better developed, and by shearing weaners in separate sex lines.
General recommendations to reduce damage at shearing and crutching include having better supervision and instruction of shearers (especially learner shearers). This can ensure they take more care when shearing or crutching, and don't take the blade of the handpiece right through the belly wool in front of the udder.
Cull ewes with damaged teats or udders
Culling ewes with damaged udders and teats is a good management practice in flocks, particularly where the incidence of damaged udders is high.
Close examination of the udder is necessary to detect damage, as small, less apparent shearing wounds can stop milk flow out of the teat. Adult ewes are best checked at shearing time when the shearer is on the long blow. The teats are then clearly visible and it's convenient for the shearer. Any udders with scars should be stripped to detect if the canal is blocked. All faulty ewes should be raddled and removed. Maiden ewes can be checked at classing.
The higher incidence of udder damage in ewes more than 5.5 years old, together with their lower net reproductive performance, makes it beneficial to cull ewes at 5.5 to 6.5 years of age.
Where there is a high incidence of udder damage in maiden ewes, culling them would be beneficial. The increase in incidence with age afterwards is relatively low.
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