Article supplied by MSD
For Worcestershire sheep producer Anthony Warmington, disease prevention should be every flockmaster’s top priority. And he says making the most of proven vaccines is one of the keys to delivering better flock productivity.
Before being taken on as a full-time shepherd at Furze Farm, Peopleton near Pershore in 2016, Mr Warmington spent the previous five years as a freelance shepherd working with a number of different flocks.
“Back then I was paid by the hour and, frankly, when I look back, I made a lot of money ‘firefighting’ disease issues. It was crazy – I saw so many disease breakdowns on a variety of farms. On several units these disease problems just created extra work and hassle, as well as lose client farmers’ money in various treatment expenses and lost productivity,” he says.
Now he has the autonomy to manage and develop the flock of up to 850 pedigree Lleyns, albeit ultimately accountable for financial performance to an entrepreneurial boss who owns the farm, Mr Warmington focuses firmly on disease prevention.
“I’m a great believer in the disease management adage: ‘prevention is better than cure’. Consequently, making the most of the effective sheep vaccines available to us is a key focus. In my mind, a small investment in a proven vaccine for either footrot or infectious abortion causes, for example, plus a couple of hours to administer it carefully, reaps enormous sheep productivity dividends and makes my working life a whole lot easier and more fulfilling,” he says.
Mr Warmington also cites an example of where vaccination is absolutely essential, simply because disease treatment is invariably futile in the face of catastrophic mortalities.
“For example, clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis are both silent killers. Typically, the first sign you see is a dead animal, but with the range of cost-effective vaccines available to us no lamb should die from these disease threats.
“Until relatively recently, prevention of clostridial diseases in lambs through ewe – and subsequently lamb – vaccination was virtually universal. But it seems vaccination programmes are being compromised these days. On some farms, they may even have been dropped altogether in a quest to cut input costs.”
To protect his newborn lambs, Mr Warmington focuses on late pregnancy ewe nutrition to make sure the flock produces good quality colostrum. He then improves colostrum quality still further by giving the ewes a clostridial disease and pasteurellosis vaccination booster.
“Good quality ewe colostrum is pure liquid gold and it is vital the newborn lamb consumes enough (at least 200ml per kg) during its first 24 hours of life. With the constant threat of exposure to Clostridia and Pasteurella bacteria, it’s really important to fortify ewe colostrum with the vital specific antibodies needed by the young lamb to fight off these pathogens.”
Clostridial diseases are caused by a group of bacteria that share the same environment as sheep. These organisms are ever present, existing in soil, on pasture, within buildings and even in the tissues and organs of sheep. For much of the time, clostridial bacteria remain dormant and effectively harmless; in the form of highly resistant spores that can survive for many years.
However, when certain commonly occurring trigger factors – ranging from changes in management/feeding and/or sudden cold snaps to parasitic activity – stimulate these clostridial bacteria to multiply, the resulting release of lethal toxins causes disease symptoms that virtually always lead to very rapid death of adult sheep or lambs.
The situation with Pasteurella bacteria is similar. Pasteurella organisms can be found naturally in the throat of sheep and once again it is stressful events that can trigger disease. Pasteurellosis outbreaks are seen mainly in very young lambs – in the first week or two of life – and quite often in 6-10 month old lambs in the autumn after a change of management.
To protect his new born lambs, Mr Warmington always boosts ewe colostrum antibodies by vaccinating his flock in late pregnancy (4-6 weeks pre-lambing).
“In the autumn prior to their first breeding season, ewes receive a primary course of a broad-spectrum clostridial disease and pasteurellosis vaccine. If we buy any animal in these also receive a primary course. Once they are on the system, they then get booster vaccinations just before lambing,” he says.
Provided his lambs receive a good intake of colostrum during the first 24 hours of life from these vaccinated ewes, they gain antibodies against a range of clostridial pathogens for up to 12 weeks. However, this means lambs must also be vaccinated themselves to gain longer term protection.
“It’s important to give lambs their own cover because the protection they get from drinking fortified colostrum wears off quite quickly. I therefore vaccinate my lambs once they are 4-6 weeks of age. In addition, any ewe lambs that are kept for breeding will be vaccinated again in the autumn,” he says.
Mr Warmington says that as a result of this vaccination strategy, he rarely sees clostridial disease or pasteurellosis.
“We are fortunate as sheep farmers to have access to a range of proven, highly cost-effective vaccines against a number of diseases. It makes no sense at all not to take advantage of this to cut the time and costs associated with managing and treating sick sheep. It’s an absolute ‘no brainer’ as far as I am concerned.”