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Following good weather across the UK during the first four weeks of April – allowing many ewes and newborn lambs to be turned out in near perfect conditions on many farms – sheep producers are being urged to protect healthy growing lambs from preventable disease threats during May and June.

Unnecessary losses from clostridial diseases, such as pulpy kidney or from pastereurellosis, are a particular cause for concern with young lambs at this time of year. According to data from Farm Post Mortems Limited, there’s often a large peak of pulpy kidney in the spring where lambs aged between two and eight weeks of age are affected. On further investigation, in almost all the cases, neither the dams nor their offspring have been protected by vaccination.

“When it comes to clostridial disease or pasteurellosis incidence in older dead lambs, most of the fallen stock had not received a vaccination booster prior to a change of diet and any immunity they may have had from drinking colostrum at birth will have waned. The good news is clostridial vaccines in sheep work well and are cost effective, which means that most of these losses are preventable,” explains vet Ben Strugnell from Farm Post Mortems.

Dr Kat Baxter-Smith from MSD Animal Health says that it is impossible to control the multiple and varied stress-related ‘trigger’ factors (e.g.  a sudden change in the weather, change in diet or parasite infection) for clostridial disease and pasteurellosis, so vaccination of young lambs is essential.          

“Provided a pregnant ewe has been fully vaccinated four to six weeks pre-lambing against these two key disease threats, the colostrum her lambs receive shortly after birth gives them protection against pasteurellosis and clostridial diseases like pulpy kidney, braxy, blackleg and tetanus. However, this so-called passive immunity only lasts for a relatively short period. This means lambs must be vaccinated themselves from three weeks of age,” she says.

Three key messages:

  • Clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis are real threats in unvaccinated lambs during the late spring and early summer.
  • If ewes have been fully vaccinated, newborn lambs can gain valuable passive immunity against these diseases in early life through drinking colostrum from their vaccinated mothers. This will give them some protection, but lambs must also be vaccinated as soon as possible to gain longer term protection.
  • Vaccination of newborn lambs from three weeks of age will protect them from the main clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis.