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High prices are encouraging sheep producers to protect valuable lambs from preventable disease threats this spring. Focus on immunity to protect young lambs this spring

High prices are encouraging sheep producers to protect valuable lambs from preventable disease threats this spring.

Lamb prices trending well ahead of last year and 78p/kg above the five-year average. It makes good sense to protect lambs from a variety of infections, says MSD Animal Health livestock veterinary adviser Kat Baxter-Smith.

Lambs are born with no antibodies to protect them from disease. This means they rely on the passive transfer of immunity from the ewe in her colostrum – but this must take place within the first few hours of life.

Even then, lambs can be susceptible to diseases during the coming weeks. “This passive immunity then starts to wear off after three weeks, leaving many lambs vulnerable to a variety of infections,” says Dr Baxter-Smith.

Losses from clostridial diseases – such as pulpy kidney – or from pastereurellosis are a frequent cause for concern among young lambs during spring and early summer.

Often, neither dams nor their offspring have been vaccinated.

Although it is impossible to control many of the trigger factors – including sudden changes in the weather, Dr Baxter-Smith says vaccination of young lambs from three weeks of age is strongly advised.

Coccidiosis is another key disease in lambs that is often triggered by stressful events, says Dr Baxter-Smith.

This is because any maternally derived immunity – gained from ewe colostrum – starts to wane after four to six weeks of age.

“After this, young lambs become particularly susceptible to the Eimeria parasite oocysts, which, once consumed from the environment, hatch and then invade the intestinal wall. This can then cause diarrhoea, weight loss and slow growth rates.”

If coccidiosis is diagnosed, farmers should ask their animal health product supplier about encouraging immunity with the strategic use of an easy-to-administer, single oral drench alongside sound hygiene practices.