A major component is to have your critters in good nutritional health
By Heather Smith Thomas
Preventing disease and keeping cattle healthy is the goal of every stockman. The key to accomplishing this goal involves developing a preventative herd health plan, which includes biosecurity as well as a vaccination program. This usually involves a valid veterinary client-patient relationship (VCPR) and documentation of the vaccines you use and when you use them, according to Thomas B. Hairgrove, DVM, DABVP, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Specialist at Texas A&M University.
Just one cow in the herd
Vaccinations are just one part of a herd health program and all too often many recommendations on vaccines are anecdotal. Some ranchers just use the vaccines their neighbor uses, or try a certain vaccine they heard about or read about. Your local veterinarian is important in helping you develop a vaccination program. Still, it can be difficult to know what’s best, because of the lack of unbiased scientific literature.
Always read the label, do your homework and consult a veterinarian. “For instance, all BVD vaccines are not the same. There are respiratory issues and reproductive issues to consider, and vaccines intended for respiratory protection may not be optimal for protection against reproductive diseases. Your vaccine program needs to center on your risks and expectations. Vaccination programs are somewhat like insurance policies and you want to get the most bang for your buck,” says Hairgrove.
It’s also important to understand all the other aspects of herd health, including nutrition. Vaccination can’t stimulate immunity unless the immune system is strong and healthy — and this takes adequate nutrition. “Just about every time a vaccine doesn’t work, cattle have poor nutrition,” he explains. Your vaccine program can’t work the way it’s supposed to if they are not healthy.
Regarding herd health, it’s important to know what’s in your forages, whether the cattle are getting adequate energy and protein, vitamins and minerals in proper balance, and whether they need a supplement. “If you don’t have good nutrition, you won’t have an effective vaccine program. Everyone gets hung up on mineral supplements, and yes, these are important, but the cattle need to have enough protein and energy to absorb and utilize certain important trace minerals,” he says.
We’re positive about gram-negative
The next important step is to determine your risk, to know which vaccines to use. “Some ranchers go to the feed store or co-op and tell them to just give them everything they need. The store sells them a bunch of vaccines and in some cases, there might be no need for certain products and even duplications. Determine your risks. Do you have a risk for pinkeye? If you don’t, you shouldn’t use that vaccine because it’s gram-negative, and overuse of gram-negative vaccines can compromise animal health.”
There are several other gram-negative vaccines, including lepto, and some of the pneumonia vaccines (Histophilus somni, Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida). Using too many gram negatives at one time can “stack” endotoxins and make the animal sick or even kill it. “Before now, there wasn’t much published information about endotoxin levels in vaccines. Excessive shaking, or subjecting them to excessively hot or cold temperatures can increase the endotoxins,” says Hairgrove.
So before you vaccinate, figure out which diseases are important for your vaccination program, then try to select the best vaccines to do the job. Some diseases may be prevalent in your region and you need to include them in your program, while others you may never see. Some are contagious (passed from one animal to another — such as IBR, BVD, trichomoniasis, etc.) and biosecurity is extremely important (avoiding co-mingling of cattle from multiple sources, or fence-line contact) while other diseases may also be passed to cattle from wildlife or other domestic animals (lepto, brucellosis).
Some diseases are ever-present in the environment in certain regions and are not contagious from animal to animal. Clostridial diseases are an example. Some, like blackleg, should always be included in your vaccination program, whereas redwater and tetanus may be more regional. Some producers will never see a case of redwater, while others need to vaccinate. Your veterinarian can explain the risks for your situation.
It’s important to understand the diseases you are vaccinating for. “Clostridial diseases are infectious but not contagious. These bacteria are in the environment and some environments may have higher risk factors. The bacterial spores are present in certain pastures, and soils with poor drainage are more likely to accumulate spores. Dry conditions cause spores to be dispersed in dust and deposited on vegetation, hence more spores are likely to be ingested or enter wounds,” explains Hairgrove.
“Spores will convert to an infective state in tissues with poor oxygen availability such as bruises, or in damaged tissue (such as a liver infested with liver flukes). So it’s important to know your risks and vaccinate appropriately,” he says.
Clostridial vaccines are killed products and very effective at producing immunity, but it’s important to select the ones that cover the diseases in your region and on your farm or ranch. “Always follow label directions. Vaccinate heifers pre-breeding and pre-calving. Females experiencing calving problems are at risk for Clostridial diseases affecting muscle,” says Hairgrove.
Ask Your Veterinarian
Some people don’t understand the difference between a 7-way vaccine, an 8-way, or 9-way clostridial vaccine or when to administer these, or if boosters are required — or whether they need to vaccinate the cow herd annually, or just vaccinate the calves. This is why it’s important to have a discussion with your veterinarian, read labels, and make sure you understand these various diseases, how they affect cattle, and when to vaccinate.
A “7 way” Clostridial vaccine contains protection against Clostridium chauvoei (blackleg—which starts in muscle lesions), Clostridium septicum (malignant edema—also proliferating in muscle lesions), Clostridium novyi (black disease, which can be triggered by liver damage from flukes), Clostridium sordellii (malignant edema in muscle lesions of neck or brisket area), and Clostridium perfringens types C and D (which cause enterotoxaemia—toxic gut infection in calves). Having types C and D will provide cross-immunity to Clostridium perfringens type B.
The “7-way” vaccine does not protect against Clostridium haemolyticum (Redwater) however, and if you have liver flukes in your area you need to use the “8-way” vaccine that does include it. “If there is any risk for tetanus in your area and you use banding for castration you should add Clostridium tetani (tetanus), even if you knife cut!” says Hairgrove. It is important to read the label and know what you are giving.
There are also several choices when selecting vaccines to protect cattle against pneumonia. “The bacterial pneumonia vaccines include Histophilus somni, Pasturella haemolytica (Mannheimia), and Leukotoxoid. The viral respiratory vaccines include infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine virus diarrhea (BVD Type 1 and 2), Parainfluenza Type 3 (PI3), and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV),” he says.
There are also vaccines to protect against bacterial reproductive diseases. These include Brucellosis or Bang’s (Brucella abortus, a vaccine that must be given by a veterinarian), Histophilus somni (associated with abortions), Camplyobacter fetus (Vibrio), and leptospira (Leptospirosis) Pomona, Hardjo (Hardjo-Bovis), Grippotyphosa, Canicola, and Ictero-haemorrhagiae.
Reproductive viral diseases include infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR, which is a bovine herpes virus), and bovine virus diarrhea (BVD Type 1 and 2, which can cause abortion).
“Vaccines provide immunologic protection against important cattle diseases but their efficiency may be compromised if vaccine timing is not appropriate, or if the animals are immunosuppressed, or if the pathogen challenge is excessive. Many of these vaccines are combinations, so you need to understand which products are in each combination so you don’t duplicate,” says Hairgrove.
Producers also need to know when to use killed vaccines versus modified live. Killed vaccines require two doses for immunity. “They both have their place. What you choose goes back to risk, and whether your cattle have much exposure to other cattle, and what their vaccine history is.” He tells of a rancher who took some cattle to a sale barn and ended up bringing one of the cows back home. She was about 100 days pregnant and got infected at the sale barn with BVD that subsequently infected her fetus. That herd, when tested later, had 19 calves persistently infected with BVD. So biosecurity is just as important as vaccination.
“It’s important to consult with your veterinarian and your extension agent (who can assist with nutrition issues and will have a pretty good idea of what diseases are present in your county). Sit down and discuss what you need in a vaccination program — and don’t just try to get advice from your vet while he is at your place preg-checking cows! So many times I’ve been busy palpating cows and trying to concentrate on that task and someone is asking me about vaccines. I just tell them we ought to go to lunch and discuss this more fully.”
Your veterinarian can explain about the vaccines, why you are vaccinating, and how each disease works — and why it is important to vaccinate at certain times, and how to do it. Your own situation (climate, region, biosecurity, risks, whether you have a cow-calf program, feedlot, stockers, developing replacement heifers, etc.) will help dictate some of those choices. You need a program that fits your needs. It is important to vaccinate adequately but not over-vaccinate. It takes the proper balance for a healthy immune system and disease protection.
Always read labels — and follow directions for proper storage and handling, dosage, injection site and technique, timing, boosters, etc. “Also record the serial number of the vaccine you use, and expiration date, and the date you gave it. Then if there’s ever a problem, you have a record that may be helpful,” says Hairgrove.