Cattle producers have made a lot of progress but still have a ways to go

The latest in-depth survey of the cow herd shows higher rates of vaccination, but gaps remain

Cattle producers have made a lot of progress but still have a ways to go
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A recent article on the results of a very in-depth survey of cow-calf herds across Western Canada notes there has been decent improvement in vaccination usage since surveys done in the early 2000s.

But it pinpoints gaps in vaccine coverage that could be improved.

There are things to be learned by every producer and veterinary consultant. We also need you, the producers, to spread the word to friends, neighbours and colleagues who may need some encouragement to take the next step.

The need to decrease use of antimicrobials should encourage more producers to work with their veterinarian. When it comes to preventive procedures for diseases, management, vaccination, and biosecurity principles are the three key things to address.

The recent outbreak of measles in the human population is a great illustration of how lack of vaccination can lead to a serious disease. The vaccine for people is very effective yet as a growing number goes unvaccinated, a tipping point occurs and an outbreak occurs. This has some calling for mandatory vaccination for measles for kids in the school system. In our sector, maybe the day will come when mandatory vaccination for certain diseases may be required, although I always like the educational and voluntary approach.

If we look at calves, commonly used vaccines were clostridials where most vaccinated (at 85 to 95 per cent). We must encourage everyone to vaccinate for clostridial disease.

Where the disconnect comes in, is that many don’t booster — so cattle become susceptible again.

Clostridial spores are prevalent worldwide. Keep replacement heifers in mind. Even more importantly, if you have Redwater in your area and if you band calves, you must make sure the diseases clostridium hemolyticum and tetanus are covered in the clostridial vaccines you are using.

Vaccinating for the viral components of respiratory diseases such as IBR and BVD saw about an 80 per cent usage while vaccination rates for histophilus and the other respiratory bacteria were only 50 per cent or less.

One must realize that with IBR and BVD, it not only starts the protection for the respiratory diseases but also for the reproductive diseases in breeding heifers. The survey found boostering drops substantially. A lot of these calves are sold and it’s left up to the feedlot. But if you wean at home and especially for your replacement heifers, you want to get the second shot into them (ideally at the time recommended on the label).

Over the years, the timing between shots has been lengthened but if stretched too much calves become susceptible to disease. We see that with blackleg or Redwater outbreaks later in the summer when calves are only vaccinated once.

Also histophilus (the old hemoplilus) becomes a bigger disease in the feedlot when many calves are not vaccinated or only vaccinated once. Vaccinating at the feedlot almost becomes ‘too little too late’ as weaning, transportation, and commingling increase the transmission of the disease. It’s much, much better to do it ahead of time.

The incidence of other respiratory bacteria is starting to rise but still about 30 per cent. With these diseases, the old adage is it is not a matter of if but when these diseases will strike.

Every year has different stressors — weather, crowding, introduction of new animals, and nutrition. So it is inevitable that some calves will get sick. Vaccination will at least reduce the severity.

The survey found that with cow vaccinations, we are up over 90 per cent for the reproductive diseases such as IBR and BVD. This is about a two-fold increase over surveys done in the early 2000s. Recent work has shown that with IBR and BVD vaccines, abortions are reduced by up to 60 per cent and there are higher pregnancy rates. Another survey done by Dr. Cheryl Waldner (co-author of the paper on the latest survey) also showed an increase in pregnancy rate and decreased abortions in those herds vaccinated and current on IBR and BVD vaccines going into community pastures. Vaccination pays and we need to fit it into our management strategies at the right time.

The survey found scour vaccines are used by half the herds as a management tool.

I firmly believe the bigger the herd, the higher the potential for scours (from lack of colostrum uptake to crowding to overwhelming exposure). So my guess is most of the larger herds are doing it. But I still hear of many scours outbreaks and it’s still the greatest loss to the industry (in terms of lost calves, weight loss, and treatment and labour costs).

Lastly, the survey found about three-quarters of bulls were vaccinated. Clostridial disease, IBR, and BVD (all respiratory viruses) as well as foot rot all need to be considered in your vaccination program. Do it at semen checking time when bulls are being handled then anyway.

The progress over the last 20 years is promising, but there is room for improvement. Vaccination and other immune stimulants are the solution into the future to prevent disease in general and decrease antimicrobial usage. Take heed of these results.

New vaccines or combinations are always being developed. They are an absolute necessity in the cattle business both for the health of your cattle but also to pass it down to the backgrounders and feedlots.

This is even more critical in the purebred sector where commercial clients look to you for advice and guidance. Plus the breeding bulls and heifers are used in their herds for years to come.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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