Finding a cause of watery mouth – an observation with big consequences for antibiotic use in the sheep sector.

Overbury Enterprises in Gloucestershire is in the middle of their laming season this year. In previous years, watery mouth in lambs, a disease caused by the poisonous toxins generated as E.Coli bacteria replicate within newborn lambs, has required the use of antibiotics at birth. The team were already trying to reduce reliance of anitibiotic use. Jake freestone, the Farm Manager states that "Previously we held off oral antibiotic use at the start of lambing and started using it when we got the first few cases of watery mouth".This year, Jake, along with the estate shepherd, Rheinallt Arch and his team have worked with Pruex to try to limit the potential risk of E.Coli infections in newborn lambs. As a result, an observation made could have benefits for all sheep producers.


Bacterial swabs taken ahead of sheep housing highlighted potentially harmful colonies of bacteria, including E.Coli within biofilms in the water system, and the surfaces of the sheep sheds. As a result, Pruex recommended a probiotic cleaning process to limit the risk of infection from these antagonists.


The water system is supplemented with “Water Plus”, a probiotic, which cleans out the biofilm layers within the water pipes and troughs. Sheep bedding is kept dry by applying a fine mist of “AHS”, a probiotic at least twice a week, or daily if conditions are wet.


Video showing clean water and clean water trough

Swabs taken at regular intervals throughout the sheep housing period have demonstrated the dominance of the probiotic bacteria applied. The latest tests, taken half way through the lambing season found no E.Coli colonies in bedding where lambs are born, nor water samples.


However, watery mouth has been witnessed again this year, which could typically only happen if E.coli bacteria are present and infect newborn lambs. What is strange is that it would affect one lamb from a pair of twins. Colostrum management at the farm is well managed, the ewes condition is modulated by management of variables such as feed and stocking rate.




Aled Davies of Pruex was determined to find the source of E.Coli infections, because the usual suspects of water and bedding were obviously not the source of infection. He observed that all free access mineral buckets within the sheep pens were contaminated by sheep droppings. E.Coli bacteria from the droppings, sugar from the molasses in the mineral product, moisture and a far warmer shed temperature would make a fantastic breeding ground for the E.Coli to multiply. Once the buckets were removed from the sheep pens, the watery mouth stopped within two days.

So, how does sheep droppings in a molasses based mineral bucket result in watery mouth in one twin lamb and not the other? Aled Davies has a theory, which, if proved, could have great implications for the sheep industry, reducing use of antibiotics, stress on animals and shepherds, and slowing down the rate of antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics.  Aled thinks that the ewe, whilst eating the mineral, gets a mixture of sugar and E.Coli on its mouth. A nice warm environment, the bacteria would have heat, a source of mineral, energy in the form of carbohydrate and moisture from the ewe drinking water. These elements are all that is needed for a nasty biofilm to develop on the ewes face. Once the first lamb is born, the ewe licks the lamb, and will often lick the lambs' mouth. The E.Coli bacteria on its face being transferred into the newborn lambs’ digestive system. The dilution affect of licking the first lamb could remove or dilute the E.Coli on the ewe’s face so that the second lamb doesn’t get the infection via its mouth. Also, the second lamb tends to get less maternal licking as the ewe has to attend to the first born lamb as well. Lambing outside, the ewes’ face would be covered in soil bacteria, non infective, and not dominant in fecal bugs such as E.Coli.


Calling all shepherds. Do you agree with this theory? Aled Davies would like to hear from you.


Calling all research institutes. Would you like to research this further and prove or disprove the theory? The whole industry would benefit if you did.


Calling all levy boards. Can you get involved in researching this theory?


This video was posted on Facebook. It shows a thoroughly licked first born lamb, and a second lamb still covered in birth fluid. The mouth of the first lamb born has obviously been licked by the ewe.