Best Practice Vaccination

A vaccination program should be a standard practice within any sheep enterprise given the health and production benefits, and ultimately economic return. Vaccination provides cheap insurance for your flock.

Lamb ‘protection’ starts with vaccinating the pregnant ewe. There are many vaccines that can be given to help protect the ewe and give some passive immunity to the lamb. 

Assuming ewes have a good vaccination history, annual boosters for the clostridial diseases using a 6 in 1 should be given between 2-6 weeks pre lambing. This will not only protect the ewe at a time when she is susceptible to clostridial disease due to the trauma of birth but will provide some level of protection to the lamb via transfer of antibodies through colostrum. This can help protect the lamb until a vaccination at marking can be given. 

Other vaccines that can be given to the pregnant ewe include an Erysipelas vaccine. Erysipelothrix is the most common bacteria responsible for arthritis in lambs. Consult a veterinarian to determine what strain you may have. 

The Erysipelas vaccine is given subcutaneously and requires two doses to provide immunity if ewes have not previously been vaccinated. The first dose is given 8 weeks prior to lambing and the second dose is given 4 weeks prior to lambing. In following years, ewes will require an annual booster 4-6 weeks prior to lambing. The lamb is then provided with immunity via the colostrum for up to 8 weeks

Lambs should be vaccinated at marking with a 6 in 1 to cover the clostridial diseases and cheesy gland. A follow up booster should be given at weaning 4-6 weeks after the initial vaccination. This ensures long term immunity. It is important to understand that it takes 2 weeks for an initial vaccination to provide some level of protection. Under certain conditions such as weaners going onto high quality pasture or being fed high levels of grain vaccination against pulpy kidney every 3-4 months despite a good vaccination history is recommended.   This can be covered using a 5 in 1 or 3 in 1.

Annual boosters for CLA should be given 4-5 weeks before shearing where infection is most likely to occur. 

Ovine Johnes Disease (OJD) is a chronic wasting disease of sheep. Vaccination is a valuable tool to help prevent and control OJD. The vaccine known as Gudair should be administered subcutaneously high on the neck below the ear. There are harmful side effects to humans if you accidently inject yourself so precautions and advice on administration should be taken before undertaking use of the vaccine.

Scabby mouth causes painful sores around the mouth, nose and udder and can impact on the ability of lambs to suckle from a ewe or set lamb growth rates back by approximately 6 weeks. Once a property is infected the virus can be persistent in the soil for years and vaccination is recommended. The vaccine should be used on properties where scabby mouth has been confirmed.

When vaccinating ensure you use the right equipment, needle length, and technique and that vaccines are stored correctly. 

Best practice vaccination includes:

  • lambs and ewes in short wool – use ¼ inch needles at a 45° angle to the skin
  • ewes with significant wool growth – use ¼ inch needles at a 90° angle to the skin.

Whilst most vaccines for sheep in Australia are designed to be injected subcutaneously (under the skin), even experienced sheep producers and contractors may be unintentionally administering vaccines incorrectly, into muscle tissue.

Vaccinating on the side of the neck, approximately 5cm from the base of the ear, helps to avoid hitting structures including bone, ear cartilage and glands in the head/neck region, whilst also minimising the risk of injecting into relatively valuable meat cuts.

By vaccinating at the correct site, using the right equipment and approach, sheep producers can maximise vaccine efficacy and minimise the risk of adverse reactions.

If unsure about a vaccination program that is right for your flock consult a Livestock Consultant, Animal health advisor or veterinarian.