Sheep, goat, and other small ruminant vaccinations are one area of livestock care that causes a lot of confusion. One reason for this uncertainty is the massive list of vaccinations available, and another reason is that lot of farmers or homesteaders have conflicting opinions on what should or shouldn’t be used.

The best way to look at vaccines is as an insurance policy for your flock. They’re usually inexpensive to buy and apply; however if they are not used, and an outbreak occurs, the results can be devastating.

What is a Vaccine?

Vaccines mainly come in two types: live vaccines and in inactive vaccines.

In a live vaccine the target organism has been treated until it’s lost its virulence, but it still retains the ability to provoke an immune response in the target animal – a sheep, goat, llama, or another ruminant.

In an inactive vaccine (sometimes called a dead vaccine) the target organism has been treated to inactivate their ability to produce toxins. Sometimes the toxin that the bacteria produce are used in the vaccine without the bacteria being present – this is known as toxoid inactivation – and the toxins alone will produce an immune system response.

Generally live vaccines, and inactive vaccines, require different application methods. Live vaccines tend only require a single dose before immunization is achieved. However, since they are alive they are more fragile and require more careful handling.

Inactive vaccines usually require two doses often 14 days apart. After 14 days and a booster shot is applied and full immunity is usually achieved. These types of vaccinations generally provoke a less intense response from the immune system and therefore need a second application, or a booster shot.

As you can see there are different application methods so always make sure you read the label that comes with your vaccine, or follow your vet’s instructions.

It’s worth also noting that certain vaccines may require booster shots a few months later; again, this highlights the importance of following any instructions that come with your vaccine.

Some vaccines have a withdrawal period that must be observed. If you’re planning to move or take sheep or goats to market, ensure you factor these times into your plans.

How do I know what Vaccines i should use on my flock?

Which vaccines you should use usually depends on the localized threats and the contagious diseases common in your area. I would advise that you consult your local livestock vet about vaccinating your livestock as they will have a better idea than most about the subject.

Different livestock management methods can sometimes decide whether a vaccine should be used. For example, those who practice a more organic farming approach may choose to rely more on rotational grazing methods, smaller livestock stocking densities, and reducing (or improving control over) localized environmental threats. These can all help reduce the need to vaccinate.

Farmers that practice denser stocking methods, have less grazing land available, or wetter land, may find that they have to vaccinate more often and against a wider range of diseases because of their environment and the threats it could contain.

As you can see there is no clearly defined method, or a one size fits all for a sheep or goat farmer to follow. You need to look at your land, your methods of livestock control, and find what are the widespread threats in your area. I highly recommend that you speak with your vet and get consultation to suit your particular farm and its situation.

20 Vaccine Application Tips for sheep, goats, and small ruminants

Now we’ve learned a little bit about vaccine, let’s look at how to apply it and discuss some other vaccination tips:

  1. When using a vaccine first thing you should do is read the instructions very carefully, different vaccines may require different application method.
  2. Keep vaccines stored away in a container and keep them out of the reach of children. Ideally, this container should be refrigerated between two and eight degrees.
  3. If a vaccine ever freezes it will render it useless, throw it away.
  4. If you have to mix the vaccine, make sure to do it a short time before the application. They will settle and can separate if left – don’t leave them a long time before administration.
  5. Generally, most vaccines are injected under the skin on the side of the neck unless otherwise instructed. Vaccine injections of this type are called subcutaneous injection, and similar application to that of injectable wormers, some scalp treatments, and calcium and magnesium injections.
  6. Make sure you are using a needle up to the job for injecting your sheep or goats, a half-inch or three-quarters-inch needle are the most common used for sheep. If in doubt consult your vet, tell them the age-group of small ruminant you are planning to work with.
  7. Do not stick dirty or used needles into the vaccine bottle when you are withdrawing the vaccine. You should always use a clean needle to withdraw the vaccine out of the bottle to avoid contamination.
  8. Always use sterile syringes and needles. You can re-sterilize syringes by boiling them to around 30 minutes. If you are treating many animals, use an automatic syringe that has an attachment that sterilizes the needle between each application.
  9. You should never vaccinate unhealthy or wet sheep/goats. Also do not wipe the injection area with a disinfectant, this can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. If the animal is dry, the injection area is clean, and you are using sterilized needles you should be okay.
  10. Avoid giving your sheep and goats other medicines at the same time as vaccinating, especially if you are dealing with heavily pregnant ewes/mothers. The only exception to this would be if a vet has instructed you to do so.
  11. Handle your sheep/goats carefully when applying the vaccine, try to minimize any stress caused though handling. It’s often best to vaccinate in small groups and in an area where your animals cannot run and move around much; in a holding pen or a yard. This is especially important when dealing with pregnant animals. The added stress can potentially cause a metabolic response or an abortion.
  12. Only certain vaccinations immunities can be passed from mother to lamb, kid, or offspring. This is called passive immunity or maternally derived, and it is passed via the mother colostrum. If you are trying to achieve this, make sure you check if it’s possible with the vaccines type you are using.
  13. Once you have finished with the vaccine, discard it. There’s always a chance that partially used vaccine could become contaminated when used. Contaminated vaccines should be regarded as useless and dangerous.
  14. Always observe the withdrawal period of vaccines. It’s also a good idea to avoid administering any vaccines two weeks before lambing as the vaccine may not work properly, and the excess stress might cause an abortion or a metabolic disorder.
  15. Always follow the instructions given with the vaccine. One major cause of vaccine or immunization failure is when the instructions have been ignored. For example, sheep farmers have thought they could get away with giving one injection instead of two, or using old contaminated vaccines.
  16. It’s often the best practice to vaccinate the whole of your flock and not just individual animals.
  17. Certain vaccines should not be handled by certain groups of people as they pose a risk. Pregnant women, people undergoing chemotherapy, immunodeficient individuals, or those taking immunosuppressant drugs should avoid handling vaccines. If in doubt about this speak with your local doctor.
  18. Vaccinations work best when combined with good flock husbandry. Taking good care of your flock via other methods can also help reduce the chances of a disease outbreak or livestock losses. It’s a fact that animals with a poor diet, or sheep/goats with a selenium deficiencies, or kept in poor conditions, will be more susceptible to an outbreak of disease.
  19. You will find some sheep producers that don’t vaccinate their flocks, they may negate the risks of disease outbreak by more intensively managing their flocks – namely, using reduced stocking densities, reliance on more rotational grazing methods, and so on.
  20. Also, the cost of vaccination program has to be considered by the farmer or homesteader. If the cost of the vaccination is going to exceed expected losses in a flock or herd, then it’s not going to save you money.

Vaccinations are not a silver bullet when dealing with ruminant diseases. Infections can still breakout on farms that have been vaccinated against threats; however vaccinated flocks generally will suffer far fewer losses than other non-vaccinated farms.

To summarize, it’s down to the farmer to make their mind up about vaccinations. They must weight up the pros and cons before making their mind up when considering a vaccination program for their farm or homestead. However, a good goat and sheep vaccination program can increase your flock productivity, and your farm or homesteads profitability.

Do think I’ve missed anything out. Got any questions? Please feel free leave a comment or question in the commetns below

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