Mark, who farms at Lacken, Rahara, operates a rigid Heptavac-P Plus vaccination programme for ewes and lambs.

Heptavac-P Plus is the only vaccine that protects against Pasteurella pneumonia (caused by Mannheimia haemolytica) and seven of the most important Clostridial strains causing lamb dysentery, tetanus, pulpy kidney, blackleg, braxy, black disease and struck.

“All the ewes are vaccinated with Heptavac-P Plus four to six weeks before lambing. This ensures that their milk has the antibodies that protect lambs against disease in the critical first weeks.

“Lambs get their first shot of Heptavac-P Plus around weaning time followed by a booster shot four weeks later,” said Mark. “I wouldn’t dream of not vaccinating. It gives the security of knowing that your lambs are protected against the main disease threats.

“It is money well spent. The cost of vaccinating 100 lambs is equivalent to the loss of just one,” he added.


Mark is lambing 290 ewes this year. He also has 40 suckler cows, with the progeny sold as weanlings or forward stores. He plans to increase ewe numbers to 400 and reduce cow numbers.

Like many, he is disillusioned with suckling. “It costs too much to feed a cow. The costs over the past winter have been horrendous. There is just no money in suckling.”

The ewes are bred to Texel, Charollais and Suffolk terminal rams.

The introduction of a Blue Leicester ram over the past few years has lifted the prolificacy of the flock.

Forty Lanark cross ewes, sourced in Donegal, have also been added over the past two years. They are bred to the Blue Leicester to produce prolific Mule replacements.


The main bunch of 250 ewes scanned at 1.96. They started lambing on St Patrick’s Day and 210 had lambed in the first 15 days.

The 40 Lanarks scanned at 1.92 and started lambing on 1 April.

The main flock was housed while the Lanarks lambed outside “where they were much happier”.

His father Ray provided vital assistance during the busy lambing period.

Mark has 80 Mule and Blue Leicester cross hoggets which will enter the breeding flock next autumn.

This is the first year that ewe lambs were not lambed on the farm, due to the fact that Mark and his wife Elaine were busy moving into their new house and looking after their daughter Ellen, who was born just before Christmas.

With the way the weather and grass supply has turned out, he is delighted with not having another 80 to lamb. He will make a decision over the coming months on whether to breed ewe lambs next year.

‘No farm is free of Clostridial diseases’

Mark Donnelly with veterinary practitioner Donal Flynn of All Creatures Veterinary Clinic, Roscommon. “Because of the insidious nature of Clostridial bacteria, no farm is completely free of these Clostridial diseases,” said veterinary practitioner Donal Flynn of All Creatures Veterinary Clinic in Roscommon.

“The bacteria can live for years in the soil and are an ever-present threat. For example, the bacteria causing tetanus can live in soil for up to 80 years. Stress and other factors can trigger an outbreak of any of these killer diseases. And with diseases like pulpy kidney, it is often the best-thriving lamb that is found dead,” added Donal.

“A severe outbreak of pneumonia can result in the death of up to 10% of lambs as well as stunting of those that survive. Also, when the first lamb or two is lost, the stress of putting the rest into the yard puts others at risk.

“That is why it is so important to have a strategic vaccination programme in place that protects lambs from birth.

“It is absolutely vital for lambs to get a primary shot of Heptavac-P Plus and a booster shot four to six weeks later in order to have lasting immunity. Giving one shot only is a waste of money,” he stressed.

Donal is a co-partner with John O’Roarke in the All Creatures Clinic. The practice has three other vets providing services to farmers in a wide area surrounding Roscommon town.

Their clients are primarily involved in sheep and suckling, with a small number of dairy farmer clients. They also provide a companion animal service.

All Creatures is a member of XLVets, a group of more than 20 progressive veterinary practices nationwide, which aims to deliver excellence in veterinary services to farmers through sharing experience, knowledge and skills.

The critical risk periods

The risk periods for the seven Clostridial diseases and for pneumonia from birth to 12 months are graphically outlined in the figure.

It shows that Pasteurella pneumonia is an ever-present risk. The greatest Clostridial threats immediately after the lamb loses immunity from dam colostrum antibodies are from pulpy kidney, tetanus and blackleg.

Lamb dysentery is a particular problem in new-born lambs, highlighting the importance of ensuring lambs receive the necessary antibodies from colostrum by vaccinating ewes pre-lambing. Braxy, black disease and struck are more pronounced in lambs over six months old.

Veterinary adviser Sarah Campbell highlighted the importance of vaccinating lambs with Heptavac-P Plus before they become exposed to the threat of Pasteurella pneumonia and Clostridial diseases.

“When ewes are vaccinated before lambing, the milk contains antibodies that protect against these diseases. In the case of Pasteurella pneumonia, these antibodies only persist until lambs are four weeks old while protection against Clostridial diseases persists until about three weeks of age,” stressed Sarah, who is veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health.

“Giving a primary shot to lambs early in life followed by a booster four to six weeks later will give immunity for up to 12 months.

“As the stress of weaning can predispose lambs to pneumonia and diseases such as pulpy kidney and blackleg, it is important that they get their primary and booster shots of Heptavac-P Plus before they are weaned,” she added.