Factors to consider when deciding on a calving-time vaccine protocol
Digital and Sections Editor
From scours to pinkeye, overeating disease to pasturella, cattle producers are faced with a lot of options regarding preventative medicine for their cattle.
When it comes to prenatal vaccines and vaccines for very young calves, it’s important to make sure the resources are being spent where they will be most effective.
That starts with evaluating your herd health, said Dr. Dale Grotelueschen, director and professor at Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“There’s not one best vaccination protocol for everyone, for every herd,” he said. “I think every vaccination protocol needs to be tailored to the needs of the system and the health risks that are most prevalent in the system the cattle are being raised in.”
Knowing the health risks involves knowing what diseases have been a problem in the past and taking a proactive approach to managing for those specific risks.
The first step in identifying a problem is getting a confirmed diagnosis of a disease. In most cases, that will require a diagnostic workup done by a veterinarian. “It’s a good investment to do a diagnostic workup,” said Grotelueschen. While it may cost $100 or more, it’s worth it to know exactly what you’re dealing with and how to best treat it.
For enterotoxemia, or overeating disease, caused by a clostridial bacteria, it usually requires a postmortem examination and diagnostic testing, he said.
In the case of scours, sometimes a fecal sample will be enough to make a diagnosis to figure out exactly what agents are in play, though if a calf has died, a full postmortem may be helpful.
Contacting a vet while the calf is still fresh is vital to getting an accurate diagnosis.
Once you have a diagnosis, you can decide if vaccines should be part of your risk management in the future.
Grotelueschen said simply identifying that a diarrhea bug is present in your herd isn’t necessarily reason enough to start a vaccine protocol. If you’re dealing with high percentages of animals affected by diarrhea, then it’s time to get a diagnosis and start looking at management and vaccine changes.
He said diarrhea, in particular, needs to be addressed from a management standpoint, as well as a pharmaceutical standpoint. The Sandhills System, which is based on moving the heavies away from the cows that have already calved, instead of the other way around, has helped a lot of producers reduce the bugs that newborn calves are exposed to, minimizing problems with diarrhea, but he recommends working with a local vet to address any risk factors in the system.
He said that because of the risk of preterm delivery, working cows near calving time should be done only when there is an established problem.
For Craig Bieber, owner and CEO of Bieber Red Angus near Leola, South Dakota, a problem with scours prompted them to start using a prenatal scour vaccine more than 35 years ago.
However, he places more emphasis on developing high-quality colostrum in their cattle through a good nutritional program, feeding good mineral and managing mineral consumption year-round.
Their operation also focuses on making sure calves are up and sucking within four hours of birth, or they provide an alternative source of colostrum.
At birth Bieber also gives an intranasal vaccine that protects against IBR, Parainfluenza 3 and BRSV. A week later he gives an intranasal pasturella vaccine.
The pasturella vaccine was prompted by some health issues that occurred in the herd after they started confining them in hoop barns during and after calving.
After working with some vets and other industry professionals, they established that pasturella was to blame. “This was one of the solutions that seemed to work the best,” Bieber said.
Since pasturella is usually a secondary infection, causing a problem only when the immune system is already weakened by a virus or other disease, the vaccine at birth helps guard against some of the diseases that allow pasturella to kick in.
He prefers intranasal vaccines to injectable vaccines, especially with young calves, because of the potential of spreading disease through the needles.
If a problem is established that a vaccine could help with, Grotelueschen reminds producers that young calves’ immune systems aren’t fully developed, and their immune system is suppressed at birth. “Our expectations need to be lowered relating to the animal being vaccinated. It’s not an issue of vaccines not working, it’s an issue of the animal not being able to respond sufficiently.”
He said there are situations where veterinarians might recommend very early in life vaccinations, like Bieber’s, but those are special situations that should be evaluated in a one-on-one basis.