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Preventing Watery Mouth

17 January 2022

A product that some sheep farmers use at lambing time, Spectam Scour Halt, has supply issues and therefore will not be available for the coming lambing season.  Spectam Scour Halt (active ingredient: spectinomycin) is the only licensed oral antibiotic for watery mouth prevention in neonatal lambs.

Watery mouth is most common in newborn lambs that have not consumed sufficient colostrum; it is caused by Escherichia coli (E. Coli).  There are many management practices that can prevent such infections in lambs.  It starts with achieving good ewe nutrition and target ewe body condition scores.  This sets the scene, so the ewe is equipped to provide enough quality colostrum.  In addition, good ewe nutrition results in lambs of greater size and vigour to stand up to suck quickly.  In terms of reducing the infection risk in the environment, good hygiene at lambing is equally important.

Mid-pregnancy is the perfect time to monitor and act on both ewe condition and nutrition, to ensure there is adequate time to implement changes in management.  Proactively using scanning results to tailor nutrition to the number of lambs carried and condition of the ewe is especially important. A twin bearing ewe will have a 60% increase in energy requirement in the last seven weeks on pregnancy.  If her nutritional demands are not met, it will impact her body condition, birthweight of the lamb, survivability of the lamb and quality and quantity of her colostrum.

Metabolisable Energy requirements of a pregnant ewe

 Time to Lambing (70 kg ewe; megajoules/day)
7 weeks5 weeks3 weeks1 week
Single10.211.212.614.4
Twin11.413.115.318.3
Triplet12.014.016.720.3

Treating all lambs with antibiotics is not only unsustainable for your flock, it will lead to resistance to the product rendering it ineffective in the future, but it is also contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans. Therefore, the inconvenience of this issue this year may highlight where you can make changes to improve antibiotic management in your flock.

Five key tips to reduce watery mouth this year

  1. Body condition score the ewes at scanning and act on it
  2. Split ewes up on body condition and scanning result e.g. thin singles with twins.
  3. Feed ewes according to their requirement, ensuring a balance of energy and protein
  4. Colostrum management
    1. Rules Of Colostrum For Lambs 
    2.  Colostrum For Lambs 
  5. Reduce exposure to infection by maintaining good hygiene in bedding, regular disinfecting, clean hands, use if gloves, etc.

The Sheep Veterinary Society have recently produced a very good document with guidance on control and treatment of watery mouth, which can be found at SVS-guidance-watery-mouth-and-unavailability-of-Spectam-Scour-Halt-released-08Dec21.pdf (sheepvetsoc.org.uk)

Kirsten Williams, kirsten.williams@sac.co.uk

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