Farmers often view vaccines as costly, but the reality is that unrealistic levels of biosecurity and husbandry are required to prevent many common sheep diseases, whereas vaccination is so much more cost-effective and easier to implement.

According to livestock veterinary adviser, Dr Kat Baxter-Smith of MSD Animal, disease management through vaccination is preferable to ‘fire-fighting’ and trying to treat a problem once it has taken hold, with treatment regimens often ending up being far more costly.

“Vaccines work because they contain a harmless agent that resembles a disease-causing organism. This agent then stimulates the body’s immune system to recognise the agent as foreign, destroy it and remember it. As a result, the sheep’s immune system will help protect the animal in the future by more easily recognising – and dealing with – any future challenge from the relevant disease-causing organisms,” Dr Baxter-Smith explains.

However, she stressed vaccination was not a ‘silver bullet.’ “Any vaccination regime still has to be supported by good nutrition, management and biosecurity.”

Dr Baxter-Smith also pointed out that it is not only important to give the right vaccines at the right time, but also to administer them with the correct technique – and to healthy sheep only.

“Sheep should be clean and dry, as well as handled as carefully as possible to minimise stress. Don’t forget to read the product datasheet, shake the bottle and use a clean, automatic vaccinator to minimise contamination."

She urged producers to make sure they work with their vet to schedule vaccinations as part of their flock health plan. Whilst some vaccines are licensed for use on the same day as others, many are not – and in those cases two-week gap is recommended between different vaccines, she said.

Maintaining good needle hygiene and sound injection technique are also important.

Ben Strugnell from Farm Post Mortems Limited said that whenever an animal is injected with a needle, there is a risk that infection is introduced, or that local tissue reaction can have potentially severe consequences.

“This means you should always make sure your sheep and needles are clean and dry before administering any vaccine. Your vaccination needles must be sterile, sharp and be changed frequently – at least between groups and immediately if bent or damaged. It is also important to use the correct needle size for the site of injection and animal. And, be careful not to inject yourself; remember that needle guard systems are available to reduce the chance of needle stick injuries,” he stressed.

He added that injecting with a dirty needle runs the risk of an abscess forming at that site and also risks the spread of that infection to other organs.

“This can lead to a poor vaccine response, reduced carcase quality and even death in the worst case,” he said.