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Build BRD immunity in your calf crop the right wayBuild BRD immunity in your calf crop the right way

Young calves will develop an immune response to BRD vaccines sooner than we thought. Here's how to get a head start.

W. Mark Hilton 2

June 5, 2017

3 Min Read
Build BRD immunity in your calf crop the right way
Jamie Purfeerst

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 combat this $3 billion-per-year disease — 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. 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. Vaccinating calves with a modified-live intranasal or injectable vaccine (MLV) for BRD at about 2 months of age will prime the calf’s immune response to the BRD viruses. There are producers who still think we cannot effectively vaccinate (immunize) calves until 6 to 8 months of age, but this is simply false. Always follow label instructions. If you have questions about the infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) fraction of the vaccine shedding, have your herd health veterinarian call one of the company’s technical consultant veterinarians for advice.

Often, at approximately 2 months of age, processing time for winter/spring-born calves 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 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.

Related:Battling BRD with genomics

Calves given a second dose of a MLV vaccine before selling experience less BRD in the feedlot than those given only one dose. 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 two to four weeks preweaning 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 two to four weeks preweaning, so the calves have time to build their immunity (see Figure 1).

Options A and B are 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 two to four weeks before weaning.

Numerous studies have shown that feedlots want and will pay more for these high-health calves. Having more than 16% of calves getting sick and 1.6% dying is not acceptable in 2017. Talk to your herd health 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.

About the Author(s)

W. Mark Hilton 2

Purdue University

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical professor of beef production medicine in the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, West Lafayette, IN.

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