‘Deciding not to vaccinate ewes is an unacceptable risk to take’

Deciding not to vaccinate ewes for clostridial diseases is an unacceptable risk to take, according to Dr. Michael Doherty from University College Dublin.

Vaccinating against clostridial diseases is a necessity rather than an option to be considered, Doherty, who is the the Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine in UCD, said.

These multivalent vaccines, a vaccine that protects against more than one disease, protect ewes and lambs against diseases such as pulpey kideney, lamb dysentery, black leg and braxy to name a few.

“If a farmer does not vaccinate for these diseases they can kill large numbers of sheep or lambs.

The margins in sheep farming are tight enough without farmers going out to find dead lambs in the field.

“These multivalent vaccines have been around for a while and they aren’t terribly expensive. It doesn’t make economic sense to take the risk of not vaccinating,” he said.

The spores which are responsible for causing most of these diseases are present in the soil and in the animals gut, meaning the application of vaccines is a constant necessity, he added.

But farmers must take care when vaccinating in order for the vaccine to be effective, Doherty, who is also a Professor of Veterinary Clinical Studies in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UCD, said.

“There’s no point vaccinating at the wrong time or giving the wrong dose.

If we start from scratch with a farmer who decides to buy in a flock of ewes, these sheep should get two injections spaced four to six weeks apart.

“This generally takes place in the autumn time; the second injection is very important as it boosts the anti-bodies response.”

Most important time to vaccinate

The most important vaccine in the season is the pregnant ewe vaccination, which should be scheduled four to six weeks prior to the flocks expected lambing date, Doherty said.

“This will make sure that the anti-bodies are present in the colostrum, it is important to make sure then that the lamb gets the colostrum then.

With regards to best practice, lambs should then be vaccinated at around four months of age, particularly replacement ewe lambs.

“These lambs should then get the second injection four to six weeks after that.

“Sometimes there is a tendency to just give one shot, but the second one is very important. There is a dramatic increase in the response rate of the antibodies following the second shot,” he said.

Following this any replacement ewe lambs or ewes that are bought into the farm should receive the two shots of the clostridial vaccine, Doherty added.

The Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine in UCD believes the benefits of the these multivalent vaccines far outweigh the initial cost.

The vaccines also leave farmers with the peace of mind that their flock is protected against diseases, which there are no cures for, and against potential dreadful losses, according to Doherty.