An Ounce of Prevention

Feb 20, 2024

Vaccines are an important tool to help minimize preweaning calf illness and death early in life, reduce the risk of reproductive failure in the breeding herd and help improve colostrum’s ability to protect next year’s calf crop when it hits the ground.

Vaccine technology, programs and practices are constantly evolving. All the options can be confusing, but more options can also make it easier to customize and combine those options in a way that optimally protect your herd against the diseases that are most important to you.

Dr. Cheryl Waldner and coworkers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine studied vaccination practices from coast-to-coast in 2020 (“Vaccine use in Canadian cow-calf herds and opportunities for improvement”; DOI 10.3389/fvets.2023.1235942).

What They Did
Cow-calf producers from BC (6), Alberta (38), Saskatchewan (27), Manitoba (18), Ontario (20), New Brunswick (2) and Nova Scotia (2) were surveyed about which vaccines they used and when they were using them in different groups of cattle.

What They Learned
Vaccination rates have improved nationwide in recent years.

Breeding herd: Overall, nearly all producers gave cows (97%), replacement heifers (95%) and bulls (83%) at least one vaccination in 2020. 92% of producers vaccinated their cows and replacement heifers against IBR, BRSV, PI3 and BVD. These “core vaccines” help protect against viruses that contribute to reproductive failure and pneumonia. Vaccination against clostridial diseases (e.g., blackleg) was less common (~50% of herds), possibly because some producers elect to use those vaccines every other year. Vaccination rates were still lower for bulls; sometimes they’re overlooked, sometimes they’re simply less pleasant to deal with. Vaccination against footrot was most common in bulls (31% of herds), presumably because sore bulls on pasture are even less pleasant to deal with.

Nursing calves: Nearly all (99%) producers gave calves at least one vaccine in 2020. Core viral vaccines against IBR, BRSV and PI3 (all 92%) and BVD (78%) were used most frequently. Calves were also often vaccinated against clostridial diseases (87%). Vaccination against BRD bacteria (pasture pneumonia) was also relatively common (e.g., 56% of herds vaccinated against Mannheimia).

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