Vaccination against clostridial diseases

Most sheep keepers have their breeding flock on a vaccination programme to protect the animals from clostridial diseases.

Heptavac P Plus is probably the most widely used and is a vaccine that helps to protect sheep against a range of diseases caused by clostridial bacteria - lamb dysentery, pulpy kidney, struck, tetanus, braxy, blackleg, black disease and clostridial metritis. The P part gives some protection against pneumonia caused by Pasteurella.

There are other similar vaccines available (for example Ovivac, Covexin8 and Covexin10). There are real differences between these products, including price, and in a large flock, a shepherd may choose to use a different products for breeding stock than for fattening stock but this isn’t really an issue for the small flock keeper.

Heptavac dosing

Heptavac P Plus needs two doses to start, each 2ml and given sub-cutaneously, 4-6 weeks apart. An annual booster, administered 4-6 weeks before lambing, follows the double dose. The vaccine is not suitable for lambs under three weeks old, but lambs that receive adequate colostrum from vaccinated ewes will acquire some passive immunity by that route. So most folk vaccinate lambs four weeks or so after they are born, give them the second dose six weeks later, then, if they are to be part of the breeding flock, give the annual booster along with the in-lamb ewes, 4-6 weeks before lambing.

Heptavac issues

I have found there are two issues with Heptavac P Plus.

The first is that the smallest bottle holds 25 doses and the manufacturer’s instructions are that, once opened, the vaccine must be discarded after a maximum of 10 hours. Now, if you only have two or three sheep, there is a lot of wastage here. Your vet may be able to help by putting you in touch with other small scale sheep keepers locally, with whom you can share a bottle but care in timing and hygiene will be important. On the other hand, a bottle of Heptavac is about £20 (June 2013), so £60 in a year - you have to balance that against the health of your sheep.

The second issue is timing of the vaccination. If your lambing period is six weeks long and you vaccinate when the earliest lambers are four weeks from giving birth, the latest lambers will be ten weeks away; similarly with the vaccination of the lambs.

We’ve decided to vaccinate lambs when the youngest is four weeks old. In the last two years, our lambing period has been around 21/2 weeks, so no lambs have been more than 61/2 weeks or so at first vaccination. The ewes we do four weeks before the first lambs are due – careful and sensitive handling is required at this stage of pregnancy.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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