Prevention of illnesses and disease can improve returns 

The adage “the best defense is a good offense” holds particularly true in the livestock industry. Preventing diseases and illnesses before they occur improves animal welfare and can save producers time and money in the long run. Vaccinations serve as an effective strategy in the   prevention of serious diseases.  

 Small Ruminant Diseases

One of the most common and severe diseases found in sheep and goats is enterotoxemia, which is also known as overeating disease. “Overeating disease is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium perfringens, characterized by acute indigestion, convulsions and sudden death,” David Brown, Ph.D., livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said. “This disease is common in single kids and lambs, nursing dams that are heavy milkers and feeder animals that are on high energy diets.”

 Enterotoxemia is caused by two strains of Clostridium perfringens bacteria, types C and D. “Clostridium perfringens type C most commonly affects lambs a few weeks old and rarely kids, while type D (overeating disease or pulpy kidney disease) occurs in sheep or goats of any age,” Brown explained.

Typically, the bacteria remain in low levels in an animal’s gastrointestinal tract. However, a significant change or increase in the animal’s diet can spur the bacteria to proliferate and release potent toxins. The toxins can damage the animal’s intestines and other organs thus resulting in death in many cases. Non-vaccinated animals are particularly at risk. 

Another frequent and fatal disease in sheep and goats is tetanus, also known as lockjaw. Tetanus is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. The symptoms associated with tetanus include muscle stiffness and spasms, bloat, panic, uncoordinated walking, and the inability to eat and drink. Animals with tetanus usually die three to four days after symptoms appear. 

  There are other diseases that impact sheep and goats such as: sore mouth, rabies, foot rot, caseous lymphadenitis, chlamydia and campylobacter, and pneumonia. 

Disease Prevention 

According to Brown, the clostridia bacteria are widespread and typically found in soil and manure. Additionally, clostridia bacteria exist in healthy animals’ digestive tracts and tissues. Clostridial diseases pose a significant threat to flocks and herds because they strike suddenly and are often fatal. 

Producers can control some of the disease outbreaks on their operations through proper feeding, management and immunization. “The best way to prevent the outbreak of these diseases is by vaccinating your animals. CDT vaccination helps to protect healthy sheep and goats against Clostridium perfringens type C and D (overeating disease) and Clostridium tetani (tetanus),” Brown said. 


Producers with sheep and goats may want to consult with their veterinarian to determine the best vaccination program for their operation. The timing and frequency of vaccinating sheep and goats depends on the diseases targeted and health concerns in the area. 

Livestock specialists recommend all adult sheep and goats receive an annual CDT booster. Additionally, producers should vaccinate ewes and does two to four weeks before lambing or kidding. Vaccinations administered in that timeframe will ensure passive immunity to newborn lambs and kids through colostrum. If it is a doe or ewe’s first time to give birth, they should be vaccinated twice in late pregnancy, approximately four weeks apart. 

When it comes to lambs and kids, experts recommend they receive their first CDT vaccination at 6 to 8 weeks of age, followed two to four weeks later by a booster. “If animals raised on pasture are later placed in a feedlot and fed concentrate diet, producers should consider re-vaccinating them for enterotoxemia type D,” Brown advised. 

Lastly, lambs or kids from nonvaccinated dams should be vaccinated when they are 2 to 3 days old and then again two weeks later. When administering vaccinations handle them carefully, check expiration dates and follow the label instructions. 

Management Strategies

In addition to a well-executed vaccination program, producers can take other measures to help prevent disease outbreaks on their operation. One such strategy is avoiding sudden feed changes to their herd or flock. 

“Grains or new feeds should be introduced gradually to the animals to prevent drastic changes in the intestinal environment thus minimizing clostridium issues,” Brown said. 

Livestock specialists encourage producers to establish a strong relationship with a veterinarian. A solid relationship with a veterinarian will help producers maintain the health and welfare of their animals.

Additional Diseases

1. Sore Mouth (Orf): A viral disease that causes contagious pustular dermatitis. It’s common in sheep and goats and can spread rapidly.

    2. Rabies: Though less common, rabies vaccination isimportant, especially in areas where the disease is endemic.

    3. Foot Rot: Caused by a combination of bacterial infections, vaccination can help manage outbreaks in susceptible flocks.

    4. Caseous Lymphadenitis (CLA): Caused by Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, this disease leads to abscesses and can be controlled through vaccination.

    5. Chlamydia and Campylobacter: Both are causes of abortion in ewes and does. Vaccinations can help prevent these infections.

    6. Pneumonia: Vaccines against pathogens such as Pasteurella species are useful in preventing respiratory diseases.


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