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Why Vaccinate? Important Considerations for Cattle and Small Ruminant Herds

Updated: Apr 9

Vaccines are one of the mainstays of disease prevention that we provide for our animals. There are core vaccines that we recommend for every herd, while others are used only in specific higher risk situations. Vaccines are chosen based on the risk of exposure, how common a disease is, and the cost of the disease when it occurs.

Most vaccines used in livestock should be administered annually. It is important to administer vaccines at the appropriate time with regards to the animals’ age and reproductive status. They must always be stored properly, including during herd work. Vaccines are sensitive to heat, freezing, and light. Vaccines that require mixing prior to use are typically only effective for one hour after mixing, so it is important to use small bottles and administer promptly after mixing. Many vaccines require a booster 4-6 weeks after the initial dose followed by annual boosters.

Typically, animals are unable to create lasting immunity in response to vaccines prior to three months of age due to residual immunity from colostrum still circulating in their bodies. There are situations where we recommend vaccinating prior to three months of age, typically to protect against diseases that significantly affect suckling animals. In these cases we always recommend at least one additional dose after three months old to develop full protection.

It is important to remember that only a healthy body can only fully respond to vaccination. Malnutrition or mineral deficiency severely impacts the immune system’s ability to respond to vaccination. Stress also impairs the immune system. Low-stress cattle handling, quality nutrition including mineral supplementation and injectable mineral at the time of vaccination can significantly enhance vaccine response. Weaning and shipping are the most stressful events experienced by young stock so it is best to vaccinate prior to these events for full protection. Protection from vaccines can be overwhelmed with extreme or continued exposure to pathogens. Therefore, biosecurity and careful consideration of sources of new cattle are integral parts of minimizing disease in your herd.

Click the buttons below to read more about specific recommendations for small ruminants and cattle.

Why Vaccinate: A Recap (April 14, 2023 update)

We received excellent feedback on our vaccine articles in the last newsletter and want to follow up with a summary of the costs of diseases that can be prevented by vaccination in cattle.

Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC, shipping fever) is the most expensive disease impacting the U.S. beef industry, costing at least $1 billion annually. BRDC is a multi-factorial disease, which means a combination of viral, bacterial, nutritional and stress-related factors work together to cause disease. The viral five-way vaccine, as well as Pasturella vaccines, are key to preventing shipping fever. The cost of BRDC takes into account treatment costs, decreased growth and death losses. However, the viruses included in the five-way vaccine also have a significant impact on reproduction. IBR is the most common cause of abortion in cattle, while BVD can cause infertility, abortion and birth defects. Vaccinating your cow-calf herd not only helps maximize the chance that your calves will finish out healthy, it improves fertility and reproductive efficiency in your cow herd.

Statistics are not readily available to estimate the cost of Blackleg and other Clostridial diseases to the cattle industry. That said, the disease is nearly 100% fatal and nearly 100% preventable by vaccination. Death losses by Blackleg are not eligible for the FSA Livestock Indemnity Program because the disease is so easily prevented. Yet, it is estimated that 70% of cattle herds in the U.S. remain unvaccinated for Clostridial diseases. Vaccination is not only important in young stock, where we most commonly see deathloss. Sudden death is also possible in mature cattle. Vaccinating your cow herd is inexpensive protection for the cows and can boost the maternal immunity that is passed on to calves in colostrum.

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