Small Ruminant Management: Pre-weaning Health Considerations – Part 2

Dr. Brady Campbell, Assistant Professor, State Small Ruminant Extension Specialist

Continuing our discussion from last week, as we move beyond the first few critical days post lambing and kidding the nerves of new life on the farm dwindle as mother nature takes control. However, as lambs and kids begin to fill the barn, it is important to remain observant to ensure that we haven’t missed anything that management could have corrected for. One management task that is of utmost importance is ensuring that we maintain an up-to-date vaccination program. In more cases than not, the most skilled producers face young lamb and kid losses associated with a lack of timeliness when it comes to vaccination protocols. It’s understandable, life happens – let’s just not make a habit of it. As we have discussed in the past, vaccines should be considered when specific challenges present themselves with the only exception being with CD&T (we’ll talk about this one below). Once a vaccine has been used with your operation, boosters (using various time frames) are typically required.

Speaking of vaccines, I think it’s time for a little quiz and don’t worry, it’s not graded. Do you know how a vaccine is used by the body? Better yet, how long does it take for the immune system to develop in our young stock? What if you intend on vaccinating young lambs and kids, do you know when this vaccine can and should be given in order for it to be effective. According to Dr. Bret Taylor, in general it takes the immune system 3-4 weeks to mature. Therefore, it is critical that lambs and kids receive

quality colostrum to ensure appropriate passive transfer of essential antibodies from their dam. But what happens between birth and 21-28 days of life? Take a look at Dr. Taylor’s webinar sponsored by the American Sheep Industry’s Let’s Grow Program titled “Getting the Most Out of Your Vaccination Program” as he discusses how to appropriately implement a vaccination program in your operation.

After viewing Dr. Taylor’s presentation, I hope that you have a better appreciation of the work that goes into seemingly simple vaccines that we use on farm to protect our flocks and herds from common aliments. Now applying what we have just learned, what other diseases or issues should we be concerned with prior to weaning our lambs and kids?

Our first pesky challenge that we will discuss is enterotoxemia or enteritis, but most probably know it better as over eating disease. Enterotoxemia is caused by the clostridial spores of Clostridium perfringens. Those that most commonly interfere with small ruminant production are types C and D, hence the reasoning behind our trusty must have vaccine – CD&T. Both clostridium types result in similar issues such as severe diarrhea, visible blood in the manure, and abdominal pain as characterized by kicking, bleating, and trembling. Most commonly, these spores will affect the biggest, fastest growing lambs and kids in the barn because of their greater intake capacity. As a result of an over eating activity, clostridia that are naturally present in the GI tract of sheep and goats will proliferate at an exponential rate. During proliferation, theses clostridial spores release a toxin that ultimately harms our ruminant species. The best way to manage enterotoxemia is through vaccination. Of course keeping a clean feeding and bedding area will also reduce the number of environmental spores available for infection. Antibiotics may be used to treat animals but in most cases, once lambs or kids demonstrate visual sings of distress it is often too late to treat.

Tetanus (lockjaw)
We certainly can’t talk about enterotoxemia and CD&T without forgetting about the last piece of the puzzle, tetanus. Tetanus is also cause by a clostridial spore, Clostridium tetani. Just as we noted above, spores may preside in the environment if not clean appropriately. In the case of tetanus, spores will remain active in the soil for several years. The tall tell sign that you may be dealing with issues associated with tetanus is lambs and kids demonstrating signs of muscle paralysis. As a result, lambs and kids quickly become stiff leading to the inability to eat or drink if facial muscle are impaired or uncoordinated walking. Again, as noted with enterotoxemia, treatment is rarely successful. Antitoxins are available commercially for tetanus, but their effectiveness is variable. Therefore, the best management strategy is to include vaccinating with CD&T in your annual management plan. For more information on CD&T, be sure to check out our latest Ag Note: Vaccinating with CDT.

Navel and joint ill
A disease that is commonly overlooked, especially if you haven’t experienced it in the past, is navel and/or joint ill. Just as the name implies, this disease manifests and presents itself either in or around the navel or in the front knee joint. Infections are caused by various bacteria’s, with one of the most common being Escherichia coli or E. coli. As a result, lambs or kids may become lame with no signs of deteriorated foot health. Animals may also have swollen or stiff joints as well as a swollen umbilicus. New born lambs and kids are most susceptible directly upon birth as a freshly torn umbilical cord serves as a direct route for disease and infection to enter the body. Therefore, it is recommend that you dip navels at birth with a 5%-7% iodine solution to reduce the prevalence of bacterial infection. Additionally, ensuring that lambing and kidding areas/jugs are clean and freshly bedded will also be of benefit. Depending upon the extent of damage, antibiotics may help resolve issues associated with infection. However, complete recovery can be challenging as infections that are set in the joints are difficult to treat.

Lastly, but certainly not least, a challenge that many livestock producers face in the mid-west US is pneumonia. For the purpose of our discussion today, we’ll discuss bacterial infections caused by Mannheimia (Pasteurella) hemolytica. Symptoms associated with pneumonia include respiratory distress, loss of appetite, as well as coughing and nasal discharge. Sheep and goats tend to change their posture as noted by droopy ears and lack of alertness. As I write this article, temperatures have reached 60 degrees F. Producers that had their barns buttoned up from this weekends freezing temperatures have hopefully opened them back up. When dealing with pneumonia, proper ventilation is key! For those that are interested in improving the ventilation of their current structures, I highly encourage you to check out the article Ventilation of Sheep Structures. Additionally, increasing animal space and shearing wooled sheep will help decrease barn humidity. A vaccine is available, but should only be used as a last resort when all management factors have been considered and addressed.

It’s important to note that the disease challenges discussed here are easily manageable through diligent management of the operator and ensuring that vaccine protocols are upheld. When implemented responsibly, vaccination programs can greatly improve the efficiency and productivity of your operation at the fraction of the cost. However, vaccines and antibiotics should never be used in place of poor management practices. If you have questions on how to further improve the health within your small ruminant enterprise, please don’t hesitate to reach out as your team here at The Ohio State University is ready to help.

As always, Happy Shepherding!