Small stock production: Spring is here – vaccinate for pulpy kidney

The arrival of spring comes with a surge in feed for browsing and grazing livestock as the grass begins to flush and the canopy layer leafs up. A sudden increase in available forage of better quality makes small stock vulnerable to pulpy kidney.

The reason for the name of the disease is obvious when the dead animal is autopsied. The kidneys are enlarged, bloody and pulpy – not good.

The killer agent in pulpy kidney is the bacteria Clostridium perfringens type D, which is present in the gut of healthy sheep and goats. These bacteria become a problem when they multiply in a gut which is disturbed because of sudden changes in the diet.

That would make now a good time to check your pulpy kidney annual vaccination programme. Rapid bacterial growth acts like a ‘poison factory’ producing toxins that flood the bloodstream and kill the animal.


When animals are moved from poor quality grazing to good quality grazing, transferred into feedlots, or fed more from the bag during, say, a drought the chances of getting pulpy kidney go up.

When animals eat more after deworming, they may be vulnerable to pulpy kidney and when there is a sudden change in the weather.


Vaccinating small stock against pulpy kidney, with an inactivated vaccine, stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies against the poison which causes the disease. Farmers generally call inactivated vaccines ‘killed’ vaccines as opposed to ‘live’ vaccines.

There are two types of vaccine available: a vaccine in an oil-based emulsion eg. Pulpyvax 1-Shot; a vaccine in an alumn emulsion eg. Pulpyvax.

Vaccinate with Pulpyvax 1-Shot, the oil-based vaccine, at four months and expect immunity within three weeks after vaccination. After that vaccinate every year with Pulpyvax 1-Shot. This is called the booster shot.

Lambs are protected from pulpy kidney until they are four months old by maternal antibodies in the milk – if the mothers have been vaccinated pre-breeding. Vaccinate young stock at four months, and then every year after that, to keep pulpy kidney out of your flocks.

Vaccinate animals, with no previous vaccination against pulpy kidney, with the alumn-based vaccine (Pulpyvax). A second shot must be given 4 – 6 weeks after the first vaccination and thereafter once a year.

Vaccinate ewes 2 – 6 weeks before lambing so that antibodies can be transferred to lambs via the colostrum when they suckle. The lambs will be protected for 12 – 16 weeks after which time you can give the first vaccination.
There are combination vaccines available that immunise small stock against pulpy kidney as well as other diseases.


The oil-based vaccines need a wide-gauge needle because of their thick consistency. Vaccinating these oily mediums through a narrow gauge needle does not work, so check before you leave the supply store that you have the right needles.

The alumn-based vaccines are easier to administrate in terms of the consistency but they have a painful burn so expect a reaction from the animal. You won’t die, or get pulpy kidney, from a killed vaccine if you accidentally needlestick yourself, but with the alumn-based products you will feel the pain and get the swelling.

I did – and it made me a great deal more careful afterwards. I sharpened up my vaccination technique to try and make it as quick and painless as possible for the animal and I avoided needlestick.

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