Saturday, 27 March 2010

Pre lambing innoculating

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.

6 comments:

jack said...

fascinating post - thankyou. One, perhaps stupid, question: does innoculating the sheep prevent you from labelling them organic?

Tarset Shepherd said...

Hi Jack. Not a stupid question at all, quite a sound one in fact.

Those who farm with an organic status have to abide by certain rules regarding treating of their stock. Please bear in mind that my knowledge is just what I have gleaned from those I've worked with who are organic.

There are a number of organic schemes the farmers may have signed up to and some are more lenient than others.

Basically, treatments, be that innoculating, dosing or whatever, need to be proved that they are necessary. This involves a vet to certify such treatments are necessary for the health of the flock then a derogation is applied for to allow that treatment to take place.

The farm mentioned in this post had to prove they had a problem, in actual fact it had been proven the year previous on one cut (heft) of sheep, permission had been given for them to be innoculated, however, as no signs had shown in any of the other cuts of sheep they were not permitted to be vaccined. The following year the signs appeared and eventually permission was granted to vaccinate. Now the whole flock is vaccinated against Lamb Dysentry but not with the vaccine that is readily used on many farms to cover many other clostridial diseases as to date these haven't shown up in a high percentage of the flock.

This seems like a long winded answer to your short question. Some of the schemes are lenient regarding innoculating as they realise it is important for the health of the flock, others are a great deal more stringent on the matter.

It pays to check with the organic status of the flock and the rules and restrictions it is meant to abide by.

Innoculating the sheep does not prevent you from labelling them organic if permission has been granted to do so.

Hope you can make sense of this answer!

jack said...

what a precise and perfect answer. thankyou! I hadn't realised there were various organic 'schemes'. And I'm glad to read that they don't necessarily prevent you from innoculating when it makes sense, even though it sounds like you have to leap through a lot of hoops to do so. I bet most people who eat organic still innoculate their kids against polio.
I love your blog, by the way. I heard about you on the BBC, and have been learning day by day ever since. Thankyou. Mine is different: www.trufflepig.com/en

Tarset Shepherd said...

You're right Jack, those who like the organic idea will probably still have their kids innoculated for the various nasties in the human world.

There are times when I really question the ideals of organic farming but at least once a problem has arisen and been professonally proven it can then be treated.

I'm so pleased to hear you enjoy the blog, makes it all worthwhile. Found yours very interesting, especially as we are considering a trip to Africa sometime. Keep up the good work.

Health said...

hi guys thanks for sharing. i was so delighted when i read your comments.

Tarset Shepherd said...

Thanks for your comment Health, pleased you enjoyed.