BACKGROUND: The acute phase response is the immediate host response to infection, inflammation and trauma and can be monitored by measuring the acute phase proteins (APP) such as haptoglobin (Hp) or serum amyloid A (SAA). The plane of nutrition during pregnancy is known to affect many mechanisms including the neuroendocrine and neuroimmune systems in neonatal animals but effects on the APP are unknown. To investigate this phenomenon the serum concentration of Hp and SAA was initially determined in non-stimulated lambs from 3 groups (n = 10/group). The dams of the lambs of the respective groups were fed 100% of requirements throughout gestation (High/High; HH); 100% of requirements for the first 65 d of gestation followed by 70% of requirements until 125 d from when they were fed 100% of requirements (High/Low; HL); 65% of liveweight maintenance requirements for the first 65 d gestation followed by 100% of requirements for the remainder of pregnancy (Low/High; LH). The dynamic APP response in the lambs was estimated by measuring the concentration of Hp and SAA following routine vaccination with a multivalent clostridial vaccine with a Pasteurella component, Heptavac Ptrade mark following primary and secondary vaccination. RESULTS: The Hp and SAA concentrations were significantly lower at the time of vaccination (day 8-14) than on the day of birth. Vaccination stimulated the acute phase response in lambs with increases found in both Hp and SAA. Maternal undernutrition led to the SAA response to vaccination being significantly lower in the HL group than in the HH group. The LH group did not differ significantly from either the HH or HL groups. No significant effects of maternal undernutrition were found on the Hp concentrations. A significant reduction was found in all groups in the response of SAA following the second vaccination compared to the response after the primary vaccination but no change occurred in the Hp response. CONCLUSION: Decreased SAA concentrations, post-vaccination, in lambs born to ewes on the HL diet shows that maternal undernutrition prior to parturition affects the innate immune system of the offspring. The differences in response of Hp and SAA to primary and secondary vaccinations indicate that the cytokine driven APP response mechanisms vary with individual APP.