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Management

Calfhood vaccination program provides important start for beef calves

Written by Saige Albert

During calving season, ranchers are faced with a number of cattle health and management challenges to deal with, from making sure calves nurse within a few hours to providing the best environment for them to survive. 

Zoetis Managing Technical Service Veterinarian Jon Seeger mentions that a good vaccination program is important to providing calves with the best start possible.

Starting with the cow

Seeger notes that a good cowherd vaccination program is the first step toward protecting calf health.

“A really good cow vaccination program is the baseline. It is really important,” he says. “A good cow vaccination program allows the cow to pass on maternal antibodies to the calf.”

Because the early immune system of calves is very immature, passive transfer of maternal antibodies allow calves to fight the first disease challenges they face. 

“It provides protective antibody levels to the calf from the dam through the colostrum,” he notes.

Cowherd vaccination programs also help to reduce shedding of organisms from the dam, which can survive in the calving area for a long period of time.

First challenges

“We can’t always vaccinate young calves against the things they face really early in life,” Seeger comments. 

“Some of the diseases just come too soon for a vaccine to have any effect,” he continues. 

While calving environments are highly variable, depending on weather conditions and available facilities, Seeger mentions that facilities should be kept as clean and dry as possible. 

“Some of the current thinking has been to move all the cows that haven’t calved every 10 days or so to a new clean calving pasture to avoid subjecting the new babies born in the next round of calving to all the pathogens that might be building up in the current calving facility.”

“These are good animal husbandry practices, and they are helpful,” he adds.

“Everything we can do is important,” he says.

Baseline program

Establishing and maintaining a vaccination program is important, Seeger continues, mentioning, “Vaccines don’t last for a lifetime.”
Vaccines protecting against clostridial disease provide a good baseline for any vaccination program. 

“Then we get into the respiratory disease complex,” he says. “We’ve been doing some research at Zoetis with infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and bovine parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3) – the important respiratory diseases – with some intranasally  administered viral products. They have been very successful.”

“The five-way viral and seven-way clostridial vaccines cover a lot of things,” Seeger adds, mentioning that Mannheimia haemolytica, BVD and other problematic diseases on the ranch can be targeted. “Beyond these vaccines, there are others that may fit into a herd’s specific needs.”

A vaccination program should be developed based on the environmental and management concerns on an individual operation and the herd veterinarian’s recommendations. 

“I would encourage producers to do what they can, based on their own herd issues and their veterinarians recommendations,” he says. 

Boosters

When vaccinating, boosters are an important part of the program. 

“It is important that we come back at branding and early weaning and give calves the required boosters,” Seeger notes. “When a product says to use two doses, give two doses. One dose won’t provide adequate protection.”

“If at all possible, it is to the producer’s advantage to give the second dose as the label indicates,” he comments. 

Care and handling

When choosing the vaccine to use, Seeger comments that it is important for producers to use a product they trust and to purchase the vaccine from a reputable source. 

“It is important for ranchers to know and trust who they get the product from, where they get it and how confident they are that it has been handled properly,” Seeger explains. 

Because vaccine efficacy is dependent on proper storage and handling, it is important to trust the source of the vaccine. 

“Vaccines are quite sensitive to freezing, heat and ultraviolet light,” he continues. 

“Most all vaccinations need to be kept out of sunlight and kept cool,” he says. 

Quality assurance

When using modified-live virus (MLV) vaccines, producers should only mix what they will use within an hour and not prepare more product than they will use to help the product retain its integrity.

If any vaccine is left over after producers are done vaccinating for the day, Seeger notes it should be properly disposed of and not kept around until the next vaccination event.  

“We need to make sure and use the right needle size, depending on the size of the calves, and to follow the vaccine label for dose,  indicated use, route of administration and proper withdrawal times,” he explains.

“We need to pay attention to things like the proper injection location and administration,” Seeger continues. “We need to make sure we are using good beef quality assurance practices.”

“With cattle prices where they are, vaccines are too inexpensive to not use correctly. It is important that we use vaccines correctly and pay attention to the details.”Otherwise, producers risk having them not work,” Seeger explains. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..