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Managing Fall Vaccinations

Producers are in the best position to control stress and maximize resistance to disease when timing of weaning is totally in their control. It has been proven time and time again, that in preimmunized (vaccinated) calves both morbidity (the per cent getting sick) and mortality (the per cent dying) is reduced.

It is far better to prevent disease by vaccination than to treat it in terms of costs, death loss and chronics. If you have not immunized at spring turnout for the common diseases such as blackleg (seven-or eight-way), IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV, and haemophilus then do itnow.

Most veterinarians are recommending these as the common infectious diseases to vaccinate against. If the classic shipping fever pneumonias are encountered the pasteurella organisms can be vaccinated for as well.

The most important thing to remember is calves ideally should have protection to these diseases before the stress of weaning occurs. If vaccinated initially at spring turnout the booster can be given right at weaning.

Other stressful procedures such as castration of the poorer bulls or tattooing are best done ahead of weaning, as well. Hopefully these procedures were already done earlier this year, but if not, plan for next year not to leave them until weaning. The only stress at weaning should be the weaning event itself.

If calves were not immunized at spring turnout, the priming or initial shots must be given at least two weeks prior to the major stress of weaning. This allows calves to achieve maximum immunity. This requires the herd to be brought in, separated, immunized and put back together. It is an effort well worth the investment in healthier calves that go on to gain well and make good breeding stock.

Most producers can achieve the protection they require by giving two main vaccinations in the fall. A four-way vaccine contains protection against IBR, PI3 and BRSV the respiratory viral diseases as well as BVD. BVD is often involved in the respiratory disease complex as well as causing severe diarrhea. BVD and IBR are also the two main reproductive diseases we want to especially protect replacement heifers against. The second vaccination involves seven-way or eight-way blackleg combined with haemophilus.

Your veterinarian may recommend a pasteurella vaccine if bacterial pneumonias are a problem with your calves. This generally is more of a problem in auction market derived calves. The vaccines for pasteurella have become much more effective over the years. They come in various combinations with vaccines for other respiratory diseases, as well. Your veterinarian can advise the best combination for your farm and geographic area. Use the combinations, which minimize the number of shots necessary.

The trend is always to use the modified live vaccines (where you mix the liquid to activate the powder) because they instill a better immunity in the calves and are generally cheaper. These are fragile vaccines, and once mixed, don’t overheat or freeze them and use any mixed product within four hours. Some pasteurella and BRSV vaccines only require one shot for good immunity. If the modified vaccines are used in the spring at turnout and/or in the fall, it is imperative the cowherd has been well protected for the reproductive diseases IBR and BVD ahead of time. As long as the cows have good immunity to these diseases the calves can be given the modified live vaccines while still sucking their mothers. Otherwise you must use killed vaccines on the calves.

Haemophilus (ITEME) is still the number one killer in feedlots across western Canada, which is why vaccinating and boostering is a very worthwhile procedure. A lot of the chronics in feedlots, which suffer from heart abscesses to severe arthritis, can be traced back to this disease. Vaccinating prior to weaning is critical to acquire the immunity necessary to protect calves from the many forms of this disease. Even though feedlots vaccinate directly upon arrival they still have a large number of cases. This is simply because it is too late and vaccinating when calves are stressed does not achieve as high a level of immunity. This constitutes a second-choice option at best. You as cow-calf producers have the option of vaccinating at the most ideal time.

Follow the weather reports and try to wean when weather is the most stable. Snowstorms, or times when ambient temperatures are really fluctuating, are obviously not ideal times to wean. When temperatures fluctuate below freezing at night to warm during the day this allows for a natural buildup of extra fluid on the lungs. In stressed calves this is where the respiratory viruses such as BRSV will multiply causing respiratory disease. We definitely see more severe cases of BRSV in farm-raised calves then in purchased ones. This makes vaccination for this disease imperative if retaining ownership. This disease is often covered in what we call the four-way vaccines. Most veterinary products carry this vaccine combined with the IBR PI3 and BVD vaccine — hence the name four-way.

Remember to apply an endectocide, as well, as this removes all internal and external parasites improving gain and maintaining healthier calves. This is a routine procedure now across Canada. We always try to use subcutaneous vaccinations where possible to maintain beef quality. This vaccination method is easier and there is way less chance of needle breakage.

The transition period to get calves started on proper feed is critical. Ideally if they have had creep feed over the summer the change will be minimal? If calves are used to the pen and know, for example, where the watering bowls and feed is, change is again minimized. It is best to remove the cows and leave calves in their familiar surroundings. This is not always possible I know. Make sure water (good quality and clean water) is readily available and there is lots of bunk space. It is also good to spread the forage in several locations to get calves started. Grass hays are best to start as they most closely mimic the pasture situation. If grain is introduced, begin very gradually and increase the amount over a week’s time.

When all precautions have been taken still watch diligently, especially the first two weeks after weaning, for signs of respiratory disease and digestive upsets.

RoyLewisisapracticinglargeanimalveterinarian attheWestlockVeterinaryCenter, northofEdmonton,AB.Hismaininterests arebovinereproductionandherdhealth

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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