This full-page ad in some sheep magazine caught my eye a couple of times during winter. A natural, herbal treatment for mastitis. “…A must to have on hand for lambing season” Normally I’m not one to pay much attention to marketing claims, but the claims in this ad were pretty impressive. It lured me enough to check out their website. Only, the ad didn’t even list a website. Crazy beans– who doesn’t have a website in this day and age?

Marketing Hiccups

The ad did allude to their domain name, embedded in a contact email address. Sure enough, works. It’s Canadian company. The claims on their website piqued my interest even more. Ok, where do I buy? No prices listed on the website, nor any hint at where or how to buy- you have to email them.  So, I did. I think it took a week or two for someone to respond, but they gave me a local number of a distributor in Idaho.

It made me chuckle- a small potatoes company just dipping their toes in the waters of marketing, and not quite ready for handling demand. But it also stalled my interest- I procrastinated on calling, weekdays I’m always busy at work and forget. I’m much more likely to buy something if I can order it online. Who uses the phone anymore? But it was bugging me; for some reason, I really wanted to try this product, so I finally called.

A poor guy answered his cell phone in his truck, and was a little confused how I’d gotten his number. He was indeed the salesperson at a dairy product distribution company, Hatfield Manufacturing, but I hadn’t been given their main, store line. Oops! So I got the 800 number from him, and called the store. I quizzed the salesperson a little about the product, and he reported that it’s very popular with their dairy customers. And that though it’s expensive, people tell him they have to use less than other copycat brands (darn-I didn’t note the price, but I want to say it was nearly twenty-something dollars for the 17oz bottle-but don’t quote me on that!). He offered to send me a free sample if I just paid the shipping. I was so pleased to receive a box a few days later with three bottles to try! Thanks Hatfield!

Do I Really Need Pricey Mastitis Cream?

I don’t have a huge problem with mastitis. But I get a few cases, and it is costly to an operation. It gets spread by bummer lambs stealing milk from multiple ewes. I culled my Jacob ewe at age four because she developed minor mastitis at age three during weaning, and then had a full-blown, hard-as-a-rock udder quarter the next year (we say quarter, like the dairy cow people do, but of course it’s a half in sheep, they only have two teats). I bottle-reared one of her lambs, and sent the ewe to sausage (which is delicious, BTW). Common wisdom says that once a ewe has a full-blown case of mastitis, she’s ruined for good. And that’s  bummer for a ewe in the prime of her life.

Last year I had a ewe that developed a mastitis problem late, in the fall, well after her lamb had weaned. It actually manifested outward, in an open pus wound that drained from her udder. I cringed, gave her antibiotics and saw that it healed nicely. I put her on the cull list too, figuring that quarter was now shot. But I just couldn’t do it- such a nice ewe, only a year old, and I’m trying to grow my flock. I decided to go ahead and breed her, bottle raise a twin if I had to, and see if I could get a year or two more productivity out of her.

I also have a couple more mature ewes that get huge udders, and develop small, localized lumps inside. Never full-blown mastitis, but I suspect their bodies are sequestering it, and they are at risk. I watch them closely and wean carefully, and preferably late with them.

Captain Blue Spray

And so, this year, out came the blue stuff! Case number one: I had a big ewe that birthed a single, and after a few days, it became clear he was only nursing one side. The other side ballooned up and got hard and warm. I did give this girl penicillin, I was so worried about it. But I also applied the Udder Comfort. Within a day, the problem had settled down, and within several days, that quarter was back to normal, and her lamb started utilizing both sides. Phew! Nice save.

Next was last year’s exit-wound mastitis girl. She had twin rams. Sure enough, one quarter had stiffened up into a block by the day before she lambed. More blue stuff. The udder softened and offered milk, though I couldn’t get much volume out of that side. As a precaution, I prepared her lambs for accepting the bottle in case they needed help. They never did and kept growth pace with the rest.

My nine-year-old ewe, #33, has a ridiculous, saggy, old-lady udder. Her teats are gigantic and warty, and hard to operate for little triplet newborns. A day or so after she lambed, I discovered one lamb whining from hunger, and a huge block-up in one quarter. Her teat was nearly dragging on the ground, it was so full. Blue stuff worked again, settled down the inflammation, and the most vigorous lamb figured out how to nurse that side. I continued to supplement the third little guy for several weeks on the bucket before he decided on his own he didn’t need it anymore.

Then I had a fourth ewe with triplets that just has tremendous milk, her udder looked like it would burst the day her lambs were born; it was hot and uncomfortable, and had a few apricot-sized lumps. I think for ewes like this, the lambs just don’t drink enough the first few days; so this tank full of stagnant warm colostrum has to be bacteria’s dream home. More Udder Comfort, and she did fine.

I weaned all my lambs this year at 90 days because many of my ewes grew thin, and I wanted to give them plenty of time to gain weight back before breeding. But at 90 days, some of them still have a lot of milk. I winced watching them try to dry up. Three of the girls who had earlier challenges, plus another one with a big bag, showed some hardness and difficulty resorbing the milk (curiously, the exit-wound sheep did not need further treatment). I always feel like I catch these things just a little too late; I’m not out there feeling thirty-some udders every day. I tend to first notice when looking at them from behind and seeing lopsidedness or abnormally full udders well past when the rest are shrunken and finishing up.

The blue stuff worked again- within 24 hours, significant reduction in swelling and heat, and by day two, they looked well on their way to resorbing the milk. It’s worth noting that other than the first ewe, I did not use antibiotics in any of the other cases.

What is It??

The product comes in both spray and cream form, in both yellow and bright blue (so helpers can easily see who is being treated where across work shifts). It smells delightfully herbal and minty, and has a cooling feel when you put it on your skin. The ingredient list cites (links mine): Aqua, Butylene Glycol, Mentha arvensis (Cornmint) oil, Menthol, Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer & Polysorbate 60, FD&C Blue no 1.

So, it certainly falls into the “natural” category, and I believe may even be OK in organic operations. Plus, it’s just easy to apply- spray it on, and off the ewe goes. Her lambs can nurse against it with no ill affect. So, I think I’m sold, I can’t wait to try it more next year! With my “watch list” ewes, I’m going to try applying it a few days before they lamb, as a prophylactic.

I should note I’m not getting any compensation for writing this, it’s just my own opinion. I know others would be excited by a product that may help with the frustration of mastitis, so I wanted to share my discovery! Chime in if you’ve used it, or a similar product!