The most common skin disease affecting sheep and goats is Soremouth (contagious ecthyma). It is highly contagious virus in the 'pox' family. The incidence of soremouth is world wide and widespread in the US sheep and goat population.
Soremouth is a zoonotic disease which means animals can transmit it to humans. It is essential when vaccinating flocks or working with sheep exhibiting symptoms of soremouth precautions are taken to protect yourself from transmission. Vaccinating a virus-free herd will introduce the disease to the herd and premises.
In flocks of sheep that have never had soremouth, nearly all the animals will develop the disease.It is transmitted via direct contact penetrating through small lesions in the skin. Soremouth can also be transmitted via infected equipment, fences, feed and bedding.
Lambs are the most susceptible to soremouth because their immune systems are still developing. Ewes can also be affected through nursing. There are many different strains of soremouth and it is possible for previously vaccinated flocks to become infected with soremouth more than once, however infections tend to be less severe and typically occur years apart.
In animals that have been exposed to the virus about two or three days after the exposure blisters, pustules and finally scabs appear. Lesions typically occur on the lips and nostrils of affected lambs. They may also appear on other areas of the body such as ears, eyes, feet, limbs, & udders. Sometimes scabs can serve as a harbor for bacteria causing a secondary bacterial infection or invite blowfly infestation. Usually over the course of the disease (1-4 weeks) scabs drop off and the skin heals without scarring.
The danger for flocks come from malnutrition for the lamb that is unable to nurse and mastitis in the affected ewes. Nursing lambs can spread the disease to the teats or udders of the ewes, which can cause serious mastitis, potentially resulting in loss of the affected udder and premature of the infected female - ultimately resulting in loss of income to the farmer.
You can read more about Soremouth here CDC - Orf / Soremouth
Over the course of two weekends I was invited to assist my friend Cindy in vaccinating Ronnie Smith's flock for soremouth. This was a major undertaking for everyone involved as Ronnie has a little over one thousand lambs this year. This was also the first time in 17 years Ronnie has had soremouth in his flock.
Ronnie is 84 years old and still going strong, working on his farm, raising his flock of sheep with the help of a few exceptional young men.
The process starts with getting all the lambs separated from the ewes then moved into the barn. Lambs do not cooperate the same way adult sheep do. They do things like jump into water buckets when the dogs try to move them.
They just dont get the whole 'herding' thing...and will often turn around and look at the dogs - much to Brynn's dismay.
Separating the lambs from the ewes is no small undertaking for a flock of approx 1600 animals. The flocks are already separated. The first weekend approx 350 lambs were vaccinated. The second weekend we tackled over 600.
With the help from a few handy assistants. Don't you know, every vaccination session must be supervised by the Chihuahua Posse.
Their greatest contribution was moral support from under the chair. Of course they offered additional input by occasionally biting the feet of many lambs which made things a bit difficult at times....and caused me to dump the vial of vaccine on my lap more than once.
Yes, I am blaming a small little dog for exposing me to soremouth. Did you know if you dump vaccine on your lap you get soreTHIGH? Yes, it is true.
Once the lambs are separated from the ewes the guys begin to catch them one at a time.
Then bring each one to us
We were lucky to be able to sit
Or in Ronnie's case....take a well deserved nap.
It is a two step process to vaccinate the lambs. If you are old enough you may remember being vaccinated as a child for small pox and the resulting scar you carried on your upper arm that looked like a spider bite. It is the same idea.
Each lamb needs to be held while the ear is 'scarified' with an instrument that has a sharp end and a brush on the other.
Here you can see Cindy scarifying the ear. You can scarify in the groin too, but it is most effective and easiest in the ear.
After you scrape the ear you flip over your tool, dip it into the vaccine then paint it on the area.
Ronnie cares greatly for his flock and watched every step of the way, when he wasn't catching a cat nap.
As the lambs were vaccinated they were let go to the larger area of the barn before letting them back to their mothers.
Many of who were not happy and calling for their babies.
Soon we were done and they were all together again.
Heading back into the fields.
Till August when it is time to shear all of them.