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Review your cow/calf vaccination plan, experts advise

As folks line up to get their annual flu shot, it's good to remember that humans aren't the only ones in need of regular vaccinations. The North Dakota State University Extension Service wants cattle producers to review their animal vaccination p...

Stock photo of a vet about to administer a syringe to a cow.
Stock photo of a vet about to administer a syringe to a cow.

As folks line up to get their annual flu shot, it's good to remember that humans aren't the only ones in need of regular vaccinations.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service wants cattle producers to review their animal vaccination plans to ensure that cows and calves are healthy, particularly if they're going to be sold.

"Viral vaccines are necessary because no other management tools are available to treat or prevent virus infections that contribute to respiratory disease in beef calves," Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian, said in a news release.

"Many producers in North Dakota and elsewhere don't vaccinate pregnant cows. They vaccinate before breeding," Stokka said in a phone interview. "Some producers, when it comes to branding time, their whole focus is on the calf. They don't have time to vaccinate the cow and that leaves them one time to vaccinate the cow and that's in the fall. If they do that, they need to follow a certain schedule."

Annual viral vaccination plans for breeding herds should include vaccinating 30 days prior to breeding, using modified live vaccines containing infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and bovine virus diarrhea virus (BVDV), he said.

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Stokka recommends that if these are administered in the fall at pregnancy-checking time, producers should use an inactivated virus vaccine with the leptospirosis. If administering a modified live virus vaccine to pregnant cows, producers should check with their veterinarian to ensure the vaccine is being used properly.

Vaccinating pregnant cows is only one part of Stokka's goal with the news release.

"My main objective of the thing was to talk about vaccinating calves," he said. "Vaccination of calves is a series of vaccinations. It is a program you put together to create in that group and those individual animals the greatest opportunity to make a vaccine."

As with individual humans, certain calves will respond better to vaccines than others. Stokka emphasized that the key for any vaccination program should be to try and get as many animals to respond positively as possible.

"Since we're talking about groups of animals, we want as many animals to respond well ... because that creates herd immunity," he said. To this end, timing can be key. "I think I mentioned branding-time vaccinations. If you do that then, you have a couple options to do it again at pre-weaning or maybe at weaning."

Stokka stressed that no matter what times cattle producers vaccinate their cows and calves, it is vital that they do so in consultation with their veterinarian. Strategies should be risk-based, researched and reviewed annually.

"Make sure you are consulting with your veterinarian on vaccine strategies and handling," he said. "Your operations are unique and will need recommendations tailored to your operation."

He provided three principles that producers should consider when they implement vaccination protocols: necessity, efficacy and safety. Consider whether the risk of exposure is high enough. He used anthrax vaccines as an example, they aren't used broadly in North Dakota, but veterinarians can tell a producer where they ought to be used.

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For efficacy, he encouraged producers to look at the evidence or judge based on their own observational experience to determine if vaccine selection for specific pathogens is effective for the level of exposure and the herd's stress level. Finally, determine if the vaccine is safe to use. Does the evidence indicate that vaccination will not cause harmful reactions?

It is always better to make these determinations with the counsel of a veterinarian, Stokka said.

"Please make sure your producers consult with veterinarians about vaccination protocol. There may be unique circumstances where other vaccines may be needed," Stokka said.

The release stated that research indicates intranasal (through the nostril) vaccinations in young calves can enhance protection, even when maternal immunity is high. The primary dose of that vaccine should include BRSV, IBR and parainfluenza 3 (PI3). The second dose, given prior to or at weaning, will boost the response to the viruses previously administered intranasally.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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