Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder, mainly caused by bacteria, and leads to economic loss, due to discarded milk, reduced milk production, reduced milk quality and increased health costs in both dairy sheep and cattle. Selecting for increased genetic resistance to mastitis can be done directly or indirectly, with the indirect selection corresponding to a prediction of the bacteriological status of the udder based on traits related to the infection. The most frequently used indirect method is currently milk somatic cell count (SCC) or somatic cell score (SCS). This review reports the state of the art relating to the genetic basis of mastitis resistance in sheep and explores the opportunities to use SCC as selection criterion in a breeding programme to improve resistance to mastitis in sheep, discussing the actual situation and prospects for improvement. It has been stressed, in particular, that although it is unlikely that selection for mastitis resistance by the farmers on their own will be successful, there is good prospect for genetic improvement if reliable pedigree and performance recording is implemented across flocks, combined with breeding value estimation. To achieve this, a strong and well-structured organization to implement and support the programme is essential.
- Genetic selection
- Somatic cell count