Two leading livestock vets are urging farmers to vaccinate their livestock this winter for clostridial diseases, as more animals are outwintered and vaccine boosters missed.

Vets Joe Henry of Black Sheep Farm Health and Fiona Lovatt of Flock Health Ltd. have said that as sheep and cattle are grazed for longer periods, and on crops such as fodder beet and swedes, the risk of clostridial diseases may be increased.

This is due to exposure to the soil where clostridial spores are often present.

Vaccine supply issues over the past year could also put stock at increased risk if vaccine boosters have been missed, the vets warned.

Clostridial diseases

Most farmers first realise they have a problem when an animal is found dead.

“Death from clostridial diseases is still a reasonably common cause, which is frustrating when there are relatively cheap vaccines available to protect stock,” Henry said.

Pulpy kidney (C Perfringens D) was the third most common cause of lamb death found in 2,733 lamb carcasses examined by Farm Post Mortems Ltd. over a five-year period up to 20191.

In the same period, Pulpy Kidney and Lamb Dysentery (Clostridium Perfringens B) were among the top-seven most common diagnoses in young lambs up to seven days old submitted to Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) over the same time period.

Some of the most common diseases from clostridial spores in cattle are Black Disease; Blackleg; Malignant Oedema; Tetanus and Botulism. In sheep, they include Lamb Dysentery; Tetanus; Pulpy Kidney; Black Disease; Blackleg; Struck and Braxy.

The Livestock Vaccination Guidelines, published recently by The National Office for Animal Health (NOAH), categorise vaccination for clostridial diseases as one of the highest priority vaccinations for beef and sheep (Category One).

This means herds and flocks should be vaccinated as a default unless appropriate justifications have been clearly identified by the vet and farmer working together.

Henry added:

“Vaccination has a good cost-versus-benefit ratio. If one cow is saved every 16 years in a 100-cow herd, the vaccine will have paid for itself.

“It’s hard enough making money from suckler beef and sheep, and with Single Farm Payments disappearing, farmers have to do everything to safeguard their stock,” he said.