Mastitis is a problem in the sheep industry, and its incidence varies widely with how it is recorded, the breed of sheep and the farm. Virtually all the published information about the genetics of mastitis refers to dairy breeds of cattle and sheep, and there is little information for meat sheep breeds. Many dairy breeding programmes worldwide use the somatic cell count (scc) in milk as an indicator of resistance to clinical and subclinical mastitis, but it is difficult to measure in meat sheep breeds. Molecular genetic technologies may therefore be a more practical way to assess susceptibility to mastitis. This paper reviews the genetics of mastitis and considers the opportunities for breeding for resistance to mastitis, with particular reference to sheep. In addition, to investigate the potential economic effects of mastitis in a purebred sheep population, a computer model of flock dynamics was developed. By making a modest set of assumptions about the key farm parameters that influence lowland sheep production, the model showed that breeding for resistance (or other control methods), if it could reduce the risk of contracting mastitis by 10 per cent, would be worth £8.40 per ewe, equivalent annually to £2·7 million for the purebred sector of the Texel breed alone.
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