I've covered the copper inoculation which some, but not all, sheep require, and explained how it was a preventative medicine.
Ewes require another inoculation from 6 weeks prior to them lambing and again this is a preventative form of treatment.
Clostridial diseases with weird names such as Braxy, Blackleg, Lamb Dysentry, Pulpy kidney can cause a great deal of grief in the flock and expensive losses to the farmer. Just as we have our tetanus injections to save us suffering from Lock Jaw (tetanus), sheep also require boosters to prevent them from falling foul to some horrible infection/disease. This is not a live vaccine and so does not require a vets prescription, it is readily available over the counter at any agricultural merchants.
The ewe hoggs (female lambs) which are kept to introduce into the flock are inoculated in the autumn. They require doing twice, six weeks apart, to get them into the system. As would any adult sheep which have never previously been vaccinated.
Once in the 'system' the sheep find themselves getting their annual booster from 6 weeks prior to lambing. It is administered by automatic syringe (in the same way as the copper is) and as the label says - subcutaneously - which to us normal folks means under the skin (which is a darn sight easier to spell).
My preferred spot for jagging (injecting) under the skin is just behind the shoulder, the skin is loose here and a light tug on the wool will easily pull the skin up and allow you to stick the needle under the skin. Sometimes if the ewe bends her body the wrong way this will tighten the skin, however it loosens the skin even further on the other side so I just change sides - easy!
The recommended site is on the neck, should a reaction occur due to the injection there will be less damage to the carcase if it was to be slaughtered, however, these ewes aren't going for slaughter and it is very rare I see signs of damage when shearing the sheep.
When inoculated prior to lambing the vaccine finds itself getting passed into the foetus inside the ewe, therefore giving the lamb a few weeks cover from these horrible illnesses once it is born. There's nothing like giving them a good start in life.
There are a number of products on the market, all covering similar ailments, some that cover more than others. My prefered vaccine is the one which also covers pneumonia. There were actually a couple farms in the area a few years back which had to change the vaccine they were using as their flocks were getting bothered with pneumonia, this was an expense at the time as the whole flock had to have the double injection to get them into the 'system', in the long run though it was cheaper than losing and treating sheep for pneumonia.
Lamb Dysentry tends to be prevailant in the Scottish Borders and Northumberland and the vaccine which is absorbed by the foetus has been a life saver to many lambs. Lamb dysentry was something which I had never seen until a couple of years back, due to all flocks being innoculated for the duration of my shepherding life I had never had cause to come across it. When I did it nearly broke my heart.
I took a fresh lambing ( one which I still do to this day), these sheep were organic. Basically the ideal of organic farming is that treatments ought to be witheld unless it can be proven they are necessary. Preventative medicines are shunned upon, wait until the problem arises - if it does - then do something about it.
That was the case with my first lambing on this organic farm. None of the ewes were vaccinated and I came across a problem in the lambs which was fresh to me. It varied and it struck the lambs down quickly. You could go around in the morning and everything appeared fine, later in the day there may be a lamb lying dead, or worse.
Lambs could be anything from a few days old to a few weeks. The ones found dead were the lucky ones. Anything found ill was in agony. Some showed signs of scour (diarrohea) others didn't. They all showed signs of tummy ache. There are probiotics and rehydration therapies which can be admministered and this was the route I took, I soon concluded I was prolonging the agony.
I did finally reach a breaking point. One lamb which I actually knew well - it's mother was a kind gimmer (first lamber) who had nurtured her lamb for the few days it had been alive - was found one day in a crumpled heap. Lamb and mother were fetched off the hill and put into a pen. Tummy ache was obvious and medicines (organic) were administered. The lamb appeared to improve, it got onto it's feet, stretched, but not the normal stretch - a tummy ache stretch. A painful bleat was uttered, scour ran out of it which showed blood, it then lay down and thrashed around, froth coming from it's mouth before it stood again and went through the whole process again. Perseverance from my part failed.
I have to say, I have never seen lambs suffer so much pain. Eventually carcases were sent to the vets. Again, with organic farming it is necessary for the vet to make the call, it is out of the shepherds hands until the vet has given his prognosis and confirmed what you thought or knew. I didn't know this was Lamb Dysentry as I had never experienced it before but the shepherd I was working under had his doubts and felt fairly sure this was the problem.
The tests were inconclusive and I had to wait for another carcase. To cut a long story short any others I found I put out of thier misery, didn't attempt to cure. It was eventually confirmed and the following year all the sheep had been vaccinated and 'touch wood' I have never come across the problem since and don't want to.
The whole episode made me question the ideals of organic farming. There is no doubt in my mind that this clostridial vaccine is a necessary treatment for the flock, at a cost of approx 70p per sheep it is money well spent.
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