Whilst oral antibiotics have a role in the treatment of watery mouth, and its prevention during an outbreak, the blanket use of antibiotics in livestock is coming under increasing scrutiny due to concerns over antibiotic resistance reducing the effectiveness of antibiotic use in the human population. It is not just the human population that needs to be considered though as there is evidence of resistance to some antibiotics on some farms so animal treatments can also be less effective and antibiotic choice becomes more limited on these holdings. In the coming years there could be more regulations introduced over the use of antibiotics on farm and we may even find some are withdrawn from animal use. We therefore need to do what we can to preserve our ability to use antibiotics by ensuring that antibiotics are being used as responsibly as possible.
Lambs and calves are born with a sterile gut and the normal gut flora establishes soon after birth. A good intake of colostrum as soon as possible after birth, but especially within the first six hours, plus clean, well bedded pens will help ensure that healthy bacteria colonise the gut which makes it harder for disease-causing bacteria to invade. If antibiotics are given it could interfere with the healthy bacterial flora. One way to encourage a healthy gut population is to use a probiotic. There is an oral doser to help kick start newborn lambs called Provita Lamb Response which contains probiotic bacteria plus egg powder as a protein source and also vitamins. A supply of vitamins, especially B vitamins, is beneficial to lambs before their rumen starts to function. As well as being useful as a routine supplement at birth the doser is also beneficial for lambs that are recovering from scour.
If you use an oral antibiotic doser at birth to prevent watery mouth and are reluctant to stop then you could consider using it on a risk basis. Strong, single lambs born to ewes with plenty of colostrum would be at low risk so shouldn’t need antibiotics if they are born into a clean, well bedded pen. They could just be given a probiotic doser whereas triplets will get less colostrum each so would be considered to be at higher risk.