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There Are No Cure-All Health Products

Sometimes I get to see some interesting things being tried in cattle. And, while there have been some significant advances in products we put through a needle, I’m still not aware of the miracle preventive or cure.

The truth is that when we try out some of these practices or products in the field, it just isn’t possible to tell whether any change we might see is due to the product or to variation in the cattle or their environment. That’s why we should always look to well-designed, properly conducted clinical trials to guide our decisions.

Sometimes I wonder if some of the things being tried are due to an underlying anxiety that we are missing something. There is a secret vaccine anxiety pattern which is very common this time of year. After all, there has to be a vaccine out there that will suddenly shut off disease like a water tap.

But, just like many things in life, the secret is to do the common things uncommonly well. Work with your vet to decide on vaccines that are reputable (safe and consistent) and include the antigens appropriate for the challenge you will face.

In reality, the only vaccine secrets are a good quality vaccine for the antigens you’re being challenged with, protecting vaccine quality during storage and administration, and planning out the timing. If it’s a modified-live vaccine, be sure you haven’t used a cleaning solution in your syringes or injection systems that could inactivate the vaccine. Then, work out the administration timing that best fits your production system and stick to it.

While some vaccines may outperform others in comparison trials, in my opinion, the difference in vaccines for many of our diseases pales in comparison to the importance of doing these steps correctly.

For example, I’m still waiting for clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of any Mycoplasma bovis vaccine in cattle. I am aware of a bovine pneumonia challenge model where an M. bovis bacterin made the lung damage worse. As a last point on this subject, there can be a big difference in the efficacy and safety of a federally licensed engineered vaccine, and simply growing up the bug, killing it, and putting it in an adjuvant.

The anxious antibiotic search (the pharmacologic “holy grail”) is another psychological malady that strikes livestock producers this time of year. This often doesn’t just involve the search for a new antibiotic, but the search for the secret combination of products. And then, of course, there’s the hunt for some kind of additional drug to put with the antibiotic(s) to make it even better.

I remain stunned in amazement at some of the concoctions and programs that can be foisted on the industry. The simple fact is that we await any clinical proof that more than one antibiotic at a time improves response in respiratory disease and many other bacterial diseases of cattle. We also await proof that adding other drugs to the therapy improves long-term recovery rates of cattle with infectious disease.

I know. We’ve all heard the testimonials. But whenever I help set up a program or treat my own cattle, it’s just one antibiotic and a tag.
Just like for the vaccines, the only real secret for successful therapy is to use a reputable, effective antibiotic coupled with protecting the integrity of the drug, dosing it right, and getting it into the animal early in the disease. Then, monitor the cattle for response and involve your veterinarian in setting the time at which to decide if the animal needs additional therapy.

It really is this simple to rid yourself of the anxiety of missing the cure-all product. Stick to the basics, get with your vet, manage the environment and nutrition, and use a really sharp pencil to figure the true value of cattle that are less likely to give you a disease challenge.
If you can’t be sure of the potential benefit of a product or practice, why risk the harm?

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.