Vaccinating sheep and cattle

Vet's vision
with Phil Rennie
Tauranga Vets

There are many infectious diseases that can affect cattle and sheep in New Zealand for which fantastic vaccines have been made to prevent disease. Vaccination is an important part of preventative medicine programme for both animal and human health. In some cases it can be helpful from a ‘one health’ community perspective. For example, leptospirosis, which can make people as well as livestock very ill.

Some of the most common conditions we recommend vaccinating for include:

Clostridial disease

Also known as ‘blood poisoning’; for example, tetanus, pulpy kidney, black leg. These are environmental organisms that can be an important cause of death and wastage in both sheep, beef and dairy cattle. The cost to vaccinate is very low and the vaccines provide very good protection. It is ideal to vaccinate for this around one month prior to lambing/calving to allow protection to be provided to the newborn animals in the colostrum. Young lambs and calves can be vaccinated from two-four weeks of age.


This bacterial infection is an important notifiable disease, with WorkSafe implications. As well as causing disease in a range of livestock, it is also a zoonotic infection capable of causing serious disease in people who become exposed. Milking personnel and freezing workers are particularly at risk because it is spread in urine and handling kidneys at slaughter. As with clostridial disease, it is recommended to vaccinate pregnant dams around two months prior to calving/lambing to allow protection for newborn animals in the colostrum. Young calves and lambs can be vaccinated from four-six weeks of age.

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea

Also known as BVD, this is a highly infectious viral disease mainly seen in cattle but can also affect sheep. Symptoms can range from reproductive losses, such as abortions, through to diarrhoea in calves and ill thrift. BVD can cause significant economic and production losses in a herd situation and is the most significant viral disease to effect beef cattle in NZ. Control of BVD involves a combination of testing, biosecurity and vaccination.


This is a virus that damages the intestinal lining of newborns in their first month of life that causes calves to scour. Vaccination can be used in pregnant cows pre-calving to provide colostral protection to newborn calves against this severe and deadly viral infection. It is highly contagious and once established, can cause extensive losses on affected farms in young calves.

There are many other vaccines available for sheep and cattle that haven’t been covered in this article. Please consult with your vet to make a preventative health plan that is suited to your farm.


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