OBJECTIVE To define the role of passively tranferred immunity in protection against early infection with ovine herpesvirus 2 (OvHV-2) in lambs. ANIMALS 15 adult sheep and 34 lambs. PROCEDURES 2 groups of animals were used, including 15 lambs born to OvHV-2-free ewes and 19 lambs born to OvHV-2-positive ewes. After nursing colostrum, all lambs and their dams were introduced into a flock positive for OvHV-2. Blood was obtained from the lambs every 2 weeks and examined by PCR assay and competitive inhibition ELISA. RESULTS None of the animals had positive results by PCR analysis for samples obtained approximately 2 weeks after introduction into the flock. In the group of lambs from OvHV-2-infected ewes, 5 of 19 had positive results at 1 month of age and 17 of 19 by 5 months of age. In the group of offspring from OvHV-2-negative ewes, only 1 of 15 had positive results at 1 month of age, and the number reached 12 of 15 by 5 months of age. All lambs in both groups had positive results by 6 months. An active antibody response to the virus was detected in animals within 3 weeks after viral DNA became detectable in the blood. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE Analysis suggests that passively transferred immunity does not play an important role in the delay of infection with OvHV-2 in lambs. Age also does not seem to influence susceptibility. The rate of infection in young lambs may simply be a reflection of the intensity of viral exposure in their environment.