The benefits of vaccinating calves for BRD

Bovine respiratory disease is one of the costliest health issues facing the beef industry today.

While BRD research has focused on the feedlot stage, the disease is also the most common cause of death for nursing calves older than three weeks.

USDA research that tracked the annual incidence of BRD in pre-weaned calves over a 20-year period found that the annual incidence varied from a low of three per cent to a high of 24 per cent (with an average of 11 per cent).

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The most common age group reported as having BRD were calves one to four months of age.

Other studies have shown calves challenged by BRD could weigh up to 36 pounds less at weaning.

For years, vaccinating calves at an early age was thought to be a waste of money because maternal antibodies would interfere with injectable vaccine antigens, making the vaccination ineffective. But a University of Saskatchewan study found an intranasal vaccination at three to six weeks combined with a booster at five to six months provided effective immunity.

While there is evidence that vaccinating young calves will enhance immune response when they are given a booster shot at weaning, there are very few clinical trials on evaluating BRD vaccines in cow-calf herds (because field trials are very expensive and difficult to perform with large enough sample sizes).

However, vaccinating for BRD can help producers manage the disease, enhance animal welfare and reduce need for antibiotics whether they are backgrounding, finishing a few cattle of their own, retaining ownership of their calves for a longer period of time, or simply wanting to create a reputation for supplying quality calves.

A new Cost-Benefit of Feeding BRD Vaccinated Calves tool can be found on ‘Decision Making Tools’ at beefresearch.ca. It can also help determine the potential premium that could be paid for BRD-vaccinated calves.

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