“When you consider your long-term ranching plan, how much risk do you want to have for a major disease outbreak? Can you afford an abortion storm?” asks John Groves.
When you boil it down to its essential elements, those are the questions you must address with your animal health and disease prevention program, says Groves, a veterinarian with Livestock Vet Service at Eldon, MO. While the answers are both simple and complicated, the hub is an effective, ongoing vaccination program.
When Groves sets up a herd health program for a cattle producer, “ongoing” is a critical part of the formula. “I want them to think about their vaccine program as part of their production system that can help them manage disease risk, and not so much as a one-point-in-time solution to disease problems,” he says.
Take reproductive diseases, for instance. The two major viral diseases that can cause a reproductive storm are infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), as well as the ongoing problems of BVD-persistently-infected (PI) cattle. It’s important to manage both those diseases because their prevalence in the industry is so high.
“IBR is pretty much ubiquitous in U.S. cattle,” he says. Because many of his clients have exposure to neighboring herds, the concern with BVD is constant, he adds.
Due to the biology of the disease — PI calves are created during pregnancy — fighting BVD begins while the calf is still a fetus. “We’ve got to have fetal protection for both IBR and BVD,” Groves says. “That’s where it all starts for us.”
This is because the biggest challenge from reproductive diseases happens during the breeding season, says Larry Hollis, retired Kansas State University Extension veterinarian who is now a beef health management consultant in Flint, TX. While the vaccine can be given at preg-check or weaning, it’s after the fact, he says, and your cows aren’t fully protected the following spring when the next breeding season rolls around.
Groves agrees. While he has some clients who, for management reasons, prefer to give reproductive vaccines at preg-check, he always makes sure they know the risks. While he’s comfortable with the safety of using modified-live vaccines (MLV) at preg-check, he says timing is an issue.
“That’s a management decision, but you need to understand that your health risk is going to be a little higher when you do that,” he says. “Just because we can give it safely at preg-check, it doesn’t mean it works as good as it does when we give it pre-breeding. It makes sense to stimulate the immune system as close to prior to the challenge as you can, so it makes sense to do it pre-breeding.”
In addition to IBR and BVD, which are viral diseases, Hollis says bacterial diseases such as Lepto, Vibrio, Trich — and in some regions, Haemophilus — need to be managed as well. The timing on those vaccinations is especially critical, he says, because the duration of immunity is so short. That makes a pre-breeding vaccine protocol critical if you’re trying to manage those diseases. In fact, he says in areas where Vibrio is “hot,” multiple vaccinations may be necessary.
For many of Grove's clients, branding and pre-breeding coincide. So with that as a starting point, he recommends an annual MLV five-way viral vaccination for cows. Replacement heifers will get two doses of an MLV five-way viral pre-breeding.
The two-dose regimen is especially important if you buy replacement heifers or replacement cows and are unsure of their vaccination history, Hollis says. “The whole key with this is to get your vaccine in when you’re developing replacement heifers,” Hollis adds. “That will help you set the stage as you move down the line.”
The calves get an MLV five-way viral and a clostridial, and are dewormed. “The calves are 60-90 days old, so we think it’s important to start their vaccination program then,” Groves says. “We think if we can get a dose of an appropriate vaccine in them at that age, we can set their immune system up to respond and protect them better the rest of their lives.”
The next round happens at either preg-check or weaning. “We don’t preg-check cows without body condition scoring,” Groves says. “That helps us make decisions on deworming and nutrition programs.”
However, his vaccination protocol at weaning is a little flexible. “Herds that have been on our health program for a long time will get their first weaning vaccination at weaning and then a booster three weeks later. If it’s a new herd, we like to get that first round of weaning vaccines a couple of weeks prior to weaning,” Groves says.
For the first round of vaccines, he uses a five-way viral, a seven-way clostridial and a dewormer. The second round of shots follows up with another five-way viral.
There are places where it makes sense to cut costs. Then there are areas, such as vaccination, where cost-cutting can end up costing you a lot.
“If diseases we can manage with vaccines are causing you to lose calves, you can’t afford not to adjust your management program to fit the biology of the disease,” Hollis says. “With prices where they are now, calves are worth too darn much to stay with tradition. If you’re having a particular disease problem, work with your veterinarian and find out if a timing change needs to be made to allow your vaccine to work more effectively for you.”
Groves agrees. “The more closely that DVMs work with producers, the greater their ability to design effective protocols,” he says. But that relationship begins with the producer. “Producers need to develop more than just a casual or business relationship with their vet.”
Ted McCollum, Texas AgriLife Extension Service beef specialist in Amarillo, encourages producers to take a systems approach to their thinking about a vaccination protocol.
“We need to remember we’re not just protecting the 2015 calf crop; we’re also protecting the 2016 calf crop. If you think values of cattle are high today, wait until you see what they could be next year or the year after that, when we begin in earnest to start holding cows and putting heifers back in the herd,” McCollum says.
That means that not only is the value of your feeder calves high, but so is the value of your cows and heifers. “Another way to look at it is it’s going to cost a lot to replace her if she shows up open,” he adds. “So don’t be afraid to spend a little money” protecting that valuable asset.
However, while producers may be looking at a few more zeros on their balance sheets nowadays, Groves says a sound vaccination program has always been necessary.
“It’s easy to say they’re worth $1,400 now, and you can’t afford to lose one. But it was just as true when they were worth $400. You couldn’t afford to lose one of those, either,” Groves says.
That’s why a sound, effective on-going herd health program is essential. While calves won’t always be worth three or four times what they were just a few short years ago, they will always be a valuable ranch asset.
“This is no time to be cutting corners,” McCollum says. “Protect that investment. But more importantly, protect the return on that investment for the next several years.”
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