Betting on Success: The prime boost concept can offer better disease protection for calves |

Betting on Success: The prime boost concept can offer better disease protection for calves

Megan Silveira
for Tri-State Livestock News

From famous lines in songs to high-stakes scenes in movies, the idea of gambling is one many people are familiar with. Ranging from poker card games to competitive wagers with friends, there is a certain thrill accompanying betting.

Raising cattle might not be one of the typical games gamblers engage in, but all ranchers certainly know being a player in the cattle industry requires the same skill, strategy and luck as other betting-based games. A rancher may be able to stack the odds in their favor when they choose the pre-weaning prime boost vaccination method.

Christopher Chase, professor in the department of veterinary and biomedical sciences at South Dakota State University, said the prime boost concept consists of vaccinating calves several times before being weaned. The method is one he said has been around a long time.

The prime boost concept contains two steps and helps set calves (and the ranchers raising them) up for success in the future, Chase said.

He said the first part of the method, priming, helps develop the calf’s immune system to set them up for life post-weaning, and the second part, boosting, helps maintain the success, he added. Chase said a calf must first be primed before the boost can occur.

Calves are born with a certain number of naïve immune cells, or cells that have not encountered disease before, Chase said.

“These cells have an antigen they’re supposed to recognize,” he said. “Ranchers want to take those naïve cells that are made to react to certain diseases and allow those cells to recognize them through vaccination.”

Chase said priming an animal turns naïve cells into memory cells, allowing the animal’s immune system to recognize antigens in the future. Once calves with memory cells are vaccinated again, Chase said they become boosted and have a much faster immune response.

“A primed response might take two or three weeks,” Chase said. “A boosted response is much faster, [happening] in days rather than weeks.”

Chase warns ranchers that vaccinating multiple times does not automatically mean the calves’ cells have been primed. Calves already have levels of antibodies present in their immune systems from the colostrum their mothers provide, making it sometimes difficult to tell if boosting has occurred. Just because a calf has been vaccinated does not mean the naïve cells took and transitioned into memory cells, he added.

While colostrum might help kickstart a calf’s immune system, Chase said the antibodies provided have a half-life and are temporary. These maternal antibodies will not protect the calf post-weaning, so he said there is still a need to vaccinate calves.

Chase recommends limiting the number of vaccinations given before weaning. He said a calf in a normal production scenario (meaning it is not suffering from illness such as pneumonia and will be weaned close to four or five months of age) will start responding to vaccines around three months of age and should be getting two vaccinations before being pulled from its mother’s side.

He recommends first administering an intranasal vaccine to help bypass any interference and prime the calf. Once primed, Chase suggests an injectable, modified-live vaccine to boost the calf’s system.

John Moes, owner of Moes Feedlot, LLC. In Florence, South Dakota, said calves that are vaccinated before being weaned prove to be healthier through each segment of the production cycle. He said, in turn, these healthy calves typically perform better.

“If [the calves] are healthy, they can grade better, and we can grid the cattle,” he said. “If they’ve had all their shots before they come to the feedlot, it’s better. Those calves will gain and do what the feedlot people want them to do.”

Moes said calves vaccinated before being weaned are a key component of developing a solid relationship between breeders and feedlot owners. Besides the feedlots gaining a premium from selling those healthier, well-finished calves at the market, producers also gain repeat customers when they vaccinate nursing calves.

“The biggest thing is it’s very well worth it to the next person that buys that weaned calf,” Moes said. “If they’ve had all their shots before they’ve come to the feedlot, it’s better.”

He believes it pays to vaccinate calves before they are weaned and said the decision benefits the entire production chain of the beef industry. In fact in his operation, Moes gives three sets of shots. He gives the first at six weeks to two months of age, the second no later than 8 weeks of age and a third right before they’re weaned at 5-6 months of age.

Chase said the method of vaccinating calves before weaning is a risk management decision. From helping to fine tune the immune systems of young calves to raising females capable of providing antibodies to future generations through high-quality colostrum, Chase said vaccinating calves at about 3 months of age and then at about 4-5 months or just before weaning is typically a good bet for ranchers to make.

“You’re gambling with the costs of vaccinating [against the] time and cost investment of dealing with the disease,” he said.

Moes said ranchers should realize sick animals require treatment. Moes said the cost of this treatment is two-fold. Antibiotics will have to be purchased, and the animal will have to continue to be fed out until the withdrawal period of the medication has passed.

Moes said each cattle operation is different in its production methods and goals, but the benefits of vaccinating pre-weaning hold true for all producers.

Chase encourages ranchers to examine their herd before implementing this vaccination procedure to ensure it fits their operation. He said all ranchers should take advantage of a veterinarian when making decisions such as a vaccination strategy for young calves.

In the game of raising cattle, ranchers face opposition from Mother Nature, the ever-changing market and so much more. With the prime boost vaccination method in pre-weaned calves, however, producers might be able to stack the odds in their favor.