Get to grips with joint ill and watery mouth

It has been a busy lambing period for John Fagan.
It has been a busy lambing period for John Fagan.
John Fagan

John Fagan

As lambing is now drawing to a close I have just 20 ewes left to lamb from just under 1,100. It was a busy few weeks but generally speaking it went fairly well.

I did, however, get a lot of trouble with joint ill and watery mouth again. There is nothing more frustrating than going out to the field to find a perfectly healthy lamb hobbling about the place, or a day old lamb, with watery mouth.

This year I had been using hibitane and iodine to treat the navels and I thought that I had the problem under control but joint ill raised its ugly head again. In discussing the issue with a friend, I at last came to the conclusion that the problem lay not in the product that I was putting on the navels but in the way that I was applying it. I had been spraying it on, and inevitably this was only covering one side of the navel. I have since changed to fully bathing the navels in iodine and, finally, the problem has stopped.

The lambs with joint ill all had to be gathered up with their mothers and treated for at least four days until the infection cleared. In some cases it was too late. It is times like these that you are glad to have some nimble footed students about the place. Like Brian O'Driscoll, I'm just not as quick as I used to be and there is no better animal on the planet than a ewe to spot a gap in your defence.

The watery mouth was another problem that I was determined to resolve and again it came down to establishing where it was coming from.

During lambing all the individual lambing pens were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with lime. However, I didn't adequately lime the main areas of the shed where the ewes were lambing.


Despite being regularly bedded with fresh straw, e-coli, the cause of watery mouth, was thriving throughout my entire shed. I have since treated each lamb that is born with a little antibiotic and thoroughly limed the entire lambing shed and I haven't had a case since.

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A silly, simple mistake, but I am taking some consolation from the fact that I have now stopped its spread and solved the problem for next year.

The only potential problem that lies ahead for me this year is grass tetany. I have put out high magnesium buckets all over the farm and I also have a small amount of ewe and lamb nuts at hand in case there is a sudden change in weather or any other stressful event such as moving sheep to different fields that can trigger tetany. The thing about tetany is generally prevention is a lot more effective than a cure.

Grass growth has been superb on the farm. The bag of urea per acre that I put out before lambing across most of the farm has worked really well. The fact that I have addressed the soil fertility problem that had been plaguing my farm for the last few years is reaping benefits.

By putting out fertiliser last September, combined with slurry in February, the grass went into the winter with plenty of reserves to be able to maximise the Spring growth when it was needed. At the moment I am grazing my silage fields which I intend to close off by April 20. I am hoping to be able to make silage in early June. But overall grass has not been a problem for me this year.

I generally give the lambs their first worm dose around the end of April but this year I am going to do a fecal egg count in order to give me a better idea of the worm burden.

Perhaps some lambs might not be under pressure just yet so dosing them might actually be completely unnecessary.

It is great to see the hogget price so strong this year, but we shouldn't be so surprised.

It is a true reflection of where the price for lamb needs to be. Mid-season lamb now needs to be making an average of €110/hd in order for sheep farmers to keep pace with the ever increasing costs of production.

We've been talking about the €100/lamb benchmark for a good few years; it's now time to move on from that.

  • John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath. Email:

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