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It seems like at the moment discussions about vaccinations are on the tip of everybody’s tongue.

Have you? Will you? Would you? Should you?

Of course it is a personal choice for each to make, so I’m not going to preach my doctrine to anyone else. I will however share my beliefs, because as a farmer, I feel that it is relevant. There are so many varied opinions about!

Personally, I believe in modern medicine. I think that we are blessed to live in a time where we have managed to obliterate the risk of so many diseases: diseases that were once commonplace and caused devastating loss of life. We no longer fear the measles, mumps, rubella or polio. Even if travelling to remote regions, we can protect ourselves from viruses like hepatitis. As a farmer who is locked in an ongoing battle with barbed wire and the likelihood of enduring an animal inflicted injury, I keep my tetanus shot up to date.

When my local GP contacted me to make an appointment to receive the C19 vaccine, I was delighted to be offered it. I just got my first jab during the week. I totally understand that it will not be a cure-all, but I do think it will go a long way towards gaining control of a virus that has held us to ransom for the past eighteen months.

So, why is this relevant? Well, as a farmer, we have a fairly strict regime for vaccination of our animals. If I didn’t believe in vaccination for myself, surely that belief would be repeated in terms of the care of our animal. Or else that would make me one hell of a hypocrite!

Throughout the lives of our sheep they will come into contact with a huge number of harm causing viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. They are present in the soil and can lie dormant for years, making them impossible to stamp out completely. We look at the likelihood of individual animals getting sick, particularly at certain times of the year or certain parts of their life cycle, and it is clear that there are some measures that we can take to reduce the risk.

An example of this is with lambs. Vaccinated mum sheep pass on antibodies to their lambs which help to protect them when they are born, but some of these antibodies only last for a certain amount of time. We vaccinate the lambs when they are about two months old. This injection will help to protect against a myriad of illnesses -pneumonia, clostridial diseases and tetany to name some – and will be followed by a second dose about five weeks later to complete the protection. Dosing the lambs makes for a busy day of work and it is not cheap, but for us it is non-negotiable. The cost to vaccinate one hundred lambs is the same as what we would lose were one lamb to die, so for the long-term health of the flock it is worth it.

We use some other vaccines too: expectant mums are given jobs against toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion so that lambs are not lost preterm, we vaccinate against footrot which causes terrible lameness and also against Orf, a contagious, pustular pox virus which is transmissible to humans. If I’m making this all sound a bit grim and nasty, it’s because it is. I don’t want my sheep to be sick. I don’t want them to be sore and lame. This is why we vaccinate them. (An on another note, I contracted Orf myself a few years back on my right hand. Most unpleasant, would not wish it on anyone.)

While some sheep breeds are hardier than others, they are not especially robust as a species, especially given our often damp and temperate climate. Even stress can be a factor – housing sheep, weaning time, moving groups from paddock to paddock, routine dosing for parasites, even bad weather – all these things can contribute to a weakened immune system and make the animals more vulnerable to becoming ill. The saying goes among sheep farmers: ‘A sick ewe is a dead ewe’. Sounds a bit morbid to be sure, but unfortunately it is often the case. If an animal gets sick, despite medicines, vet visits, special care and much effort by us, it will often die. Our best line of defence is to prevent the illness from happening in the first place. As they say, the best offence is a good defence.

So now I have offered my explanation as to why we vaccinate. I understand that this can be a contentious issue but as farmers, we are doing the best we can as caretakers of our flock. If you have any comments or questions, I’d be happy to hear them and will do my best to answer or give further information.


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