Failing to arm sheep and goats disease protection is a bit like heading into a tackle football game with no helmets or pads. Less protection means greater risk. Vaccines are an important component in suiting up small ruminants to hit the field – or pasture. At minimum, sheep and goats of all ages and stages should be protected from clostridial diseases.
Eric Gordon, DVM, Ohio State University, believes that clostridial diseases are the only group that all sheep and goats should be vaccinated against. He recommends using a three-way vaccine generically referred to as CDT, which protects against Clostridium perfringens type C and D and Clostridium tetani (tetanus). Eight-way vaccines are also on the market, but the three-way CDT is the core vaccine for sheep and goats.
PROTECT AGAINST THESE THREE: CDT
The CDT vaccine is both inexpensive and very effective at preventing the quick and fatal consequences that can result from a clostridial infection. “The key here is vaccination and prevention rather than treatment because usually we are too late to treat it,” Gordon says.
Types C and D are the culprits of enterotoxemia. Type C is found around the farm in manure and soil. A young animal may ingest this strain while nursing a doe or ewe with a dirty or contaminated udder. Once inside the body, the bacteria grow rapidly and produce a toxin that results in rapid death.
Type D is the clostridial strain tied to overeating disease. While certain levels exist in the stomach, bacteria can proliferate in the small intestine when fast-growing lambs or kids ingest large amounts of feed, grain specifically. These toxins then enter the bloodstream, and the animal responds with body convulsions, jerky movements, salivation and coma. Death can occur in as little as 30 to 90 minutes.
When it comes to tetanus, wounds and lacerations are a conduit for the deadly bacteria to infect the body with deadly toxins. While puncture wounds incurred from in and around facilities are one way tetanus can infect the animal, surgical procedures like castration, docking and dehorning can also present a risk.
Based on his observations, Gordon believes that the method of castration matters when it comes to tetanus. He has seen a higher incidence of tetanus among animals that have been banded compared to those that were surgically cut. This is because the bacteria thrive in an anaerobic environment, which is created by the dead tissue that forms below the band. However, the infection risk from banding is reduced when animals are protected by a vaccine.
From babies to mommas and bucks, protecting against these swift and deadly clostridial infections is a wise choice. At a cost of roughly 30 cents per dose, it is a “pretty cheap and pretty effective” way in assure the health of your animals, Gordon notes. Following the vaccine protocol for kids and lambs and providing an annual booster through adulthood will provide optimal protection.
When ewes and does are vaccinated properly, they are able to pass on temporary protection to their vulnerable babies through colostrum. Gordon recommends that ewes and does be vaccinated in the last month of pregnancy. For first-time moms, he suggests giving two shots – one six weeks prior to lambing or kidding, followed by another three weeks prior. This puts the maximum amount of antibody in colostrum for the lamb or kid.
When the immunization status of the mother is unknown or uncertain, the best bet for disease prevention is to vaccinate the baby at one to three weeks of age, followed by two booster shots, each given at four week intervals.
For properly vaccinated babies, he recommends administering the CDT vaccine at about eight to 12 weeks of age. If the ewe or doe was properly vaccinated, her colostrum will provide good protection up to that point. The timing should also be a week or two prior to castrating or docking.
And don’t forget about the boys. Gordon suggests hitting rams and bucks with a CDT vaccine about a month before going into the breeding pens. “That’s when most likely to get injured, and injury can lead to clostridial infection,” he notes.
VACCINES ARE NOT BAND-AIDS
“Vaccines shouldn’t be a Band-Aid for poor management,” adds Gordon. There are other ways to improve immune function other than vaccinations, and they are just as important. Reducing animal stress and providing good nutrition, clean bedding and housing, ventilation and an ample water source are basic things that do wonders for animal health. Practicing good hygiene by keeping animals clean and dry will also help prevent the spread of clostridial diseases.
“If we do [these things], it’s amazing what the animal can fight off on its own,” he states. “Coupled along with the vaccination program, that is the answer.”