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Building immunityBuilding immunity

There are many different options when it comes to the timing of vaccinations and weaning. Mark Hilton, D.V.M. and Elanco beef technical consultant, reviews the best practices for preventing bovine respiratory disease (BRD). He explains the health benefits and cost-effectiveness of vaccinating and weaning the calf at the appropriate time in its life. Overall, a calf will experience much less stress if they are weaned on the farm or ranch before they are taken to the feedlot.

4 Min Read
Building immunity

I’ve been to countless beef meetings where the topic of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is discussed. I am sure at this moment there are dozens of research projects ongoing that will, hopefully, help us to combat this $3 billion/year disease1 — that’s $130 for EVERY feedlot animal that goes to slaughter in the U.S. each year!* BRD incidences have continued to increase over the past 30 years.2 While these new studies will shed light on unanswered questions, I want to focus on what we do know so that your 2017 calf crop can be best prepared for the feedlot.

Young calves will develop an immune response to BRD vaccines at younger ages than previously thought. For winter/spring calving herds, vaccinating calves with a modified-live intranasal or injectable BRD vaccine at about 2 months of age will prime the calf’s immune response to the BRD viruses.3-6 There are many producers who still think we cannot effectively vaccinate (immunize) calves until 6-8 months of age, but this is simply false.3-6 Always follow label instructions. If you have questions about the IBR fraction of the vaccine shedding, call one of the company’s technical services veterinarians for advice.

Often, at approximately two months of age, processing time meshes with procedures like controlling flies via pour-ons and fly tags, vaccinating for blackleg and using a nursing calf implant. Grouping these procedures can greatly improve the cost-effectiveness of this processing day. And if some bull calves were missed at birth, now is a much better time to castrate than waiting to do it on the most stressful day of the calf’s life — weaning.

Calves given a second dose of a MLV vaccine before selling experience less BRD in the feedlot than those given only one dose.6 The ideal scenario for calf health in the feedlot is to wean the calves on the farm or ranch so they experience much less stress when they are trucked to the feedlot. If you can wean and background for 45 days or more, the second MLV vaccine can be given 2-4 weeks pre-weaning or at weaning. If you have zero opportunity to wean and background them for 45 days or more, then the second dose of MLV vaccine needs to be given 2-4 weeks pre-weaning so the calves have time to build their immunity.7

MLV dosing protocol options


~2 months ago

2-4 weeks preweaning


45+ days postweaning


MLV BRD vaccine

MLV BRD vaccine

Sell calves


MLV BRD vaccine

MLV BRD vaccine

Sell calves


MLV BRD vaccine

MLV BRD vaccine

Sell calves

Options A and B represent the gold standard for healthy calves in the feedlot. If the backgrounding component is impossible for you, be sure to get that first BRD vaccine into the calves at about 2 months of age and follow-up with a second dose 2-4 weeks before weaning.

Numerous studies have shown that feedlots want, and will pay more, for these high health calves.8,9 Having over 16 percent of calves getting sick and 1.6 percent die is not acceptable in 2017.2 Talk to your veterinarian today about getting an initial round of vaccines into your calves at about 2 months of age and follow-up with a second dose before or at weaning to help your calves stay healthy after they leave your farm or ranch. Your calves and their new owner will appreciate your work.


*Based on 23 million steers and heifers slaughtered in 2015. USDA. Accessed April 6, 2017: <https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/statistics-information/>.

1Griffin, D. 1997. "Economic impact associated with respiratory disease in beef cattle." Veterinary clinics of North America: food animal practice 13.3: 367-377.

2Hilton, M. 2014. "BRD in 2014: where have we been, where are we now, and where do we want to go?" Animal Health Research Reviews 15.02: 120-122.

3Mahan. S., et al. 2016. "Efficacy of intranasal vaccination with a multivalent vaccine containing temperature-sensitive modified-live bovine herpesvirus type 1 for protection of seronegative and seropositive calves against respiratory disease." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248.11: 1280-1286.

4Ellis. J., et al. 2013. "Duration of immunity to experimental infection with bovine respiratory syncytial virus following intranasal vaccination of young passively immune calves." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 243.11: 1602-1608.

5Endsley, J., et al. 2003. "Maternal antibody blocks humoral but not T cell responses to BVDV." Biologicals 31.2: 123-125.

6Zimmerman. A., et al. 2006. "Evaluation of protection against virulent bovine viral diarrhea virus type 2 in calves that had maternal antibodies and were vaccinated with a modified-live vaccine." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 228.11: 1757-1761.

7Kirkpatrick, J., et al. 2008. "Effect of age at the time of vaccination on antibody titers and feedlot performance in beef calves." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 233.1: 136-142.

8Schumacher, T., et al. 2012. "Willingness-to-pay for calf health programs and certification agents." Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics 44.02: 191-202.

9Zimmerman, L., et al. 2012. "The effect of value-added management on calf prices at Superior Livestock Auction video markets." Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 128-143.

Elanco is a trademark of Eli Lilly and Company or its affiliates.

© 2017 Eli Lilly and Company or its affiliates.

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