Ewe management: It’s time to administer clostridial vaccinations

With the lambing season approaching for mid-season flocks, it’s time for farmers to start administering vaccinations.

In particular, a clostridial vaccination should be given to ewes that are four-to-six weeks away from lambing.

It is vitally important that ewes receive this dose as it will have a knock-on effect on their offspring. If ewes are vaccinated on an annual basis it will allow for their antibody levels to remain high, which will then be transferred to the lamb and give it protection.

It is vital that a lamb receives adequate amounts of colostrum within the first few hours of birth.

Clostridia – which is a bacteria – can cause many different types of diseases in sheep such as: metritis in ewes; lamb dysentery; and pulpy kidney.

By vaccinating ewes, farmers can drastically reduce the incidence of these diseases from occurring.

According to Teagasc, pulpy kidney is the most common type of clostridial disease found in sheep – in Ireland. It is commonly found in fast-growing lambs. These animals – that are usually over one month-of-age – are consuming high concentrate diets, or are suckling heavy milking ewes.

Best practice

A common problem on sheep farms is not giving lambs the full primary course. Therefore, by not completing the vaccination course, lambs are still susceptible and this could lead to losses.

Furthermore, not administering the correct dose of the vaccine will cause the animals to have a lower antibody response which may result in health problems.

Moreover, another cause for concern is the incorrect storage of the vaccine. It must be kept refrigerated as per the instructions and is sensitive to temperature changes.

In most cases, not using a vaccine which covers multiple Clostridia can lead to problems. There are a number of vaccines on the Irish market, many of which cover up to 10 individual clostridial bacterial species and toxins.

According to Teagasc, it is advisable to use a vaccine that covers as many clostridia and toxins as possible as the difference can be ‘catastrophic’. Moreover, the price difference between the two vaccines (per sheep) is small.

Finally, using dirty needles is a quick way to spread disease from one animal to the next. Therefore, it is important to regularly change needles.

In order to prevent clostridial diseases, it is best practice to:

  • Administer the full vaccine course to lambs at the recommended intervals;
  • Store the vaccine correctly;
  • Use clean, sterile needles for vaccination and maintain high levels of cleanliness throughout the work;
  • Use a vaccine which covers as many Clostridia as possible. If you wish to use a vaccine with clostridial and pasteurella elements, remember that there are less Clostridia covered in the combined vaccine.