Vaccines made simple(r) — basics you need to know

Here are some tips to cut through the confusion and help 
you decide on the best protocol for your ranch

Close up of veterinarian's hand preparing vaccine for cattle on the farm
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We have all been there — it’s the day before preg check, you need to get your vaccine order in, and you just can’t seem to remember what you gave the girls last year.

Was it the one in the turquoise box? The white box? It was the yellow box, that’s it!

You put a call into the vet office and it turns out there is more than one yellow box?!? And now they are asking if you want the ‘5,’ ‘FP5,’ or ‘VL5.’

Vaccines are undoubtedly among the most confusing products on the market, and with so many options to pick from, it can be very difficult to keep track of who gets what and when.

Here’s some tips that will (hopefully) clear up some confusion and help you decide what protocol is best suited for each class of cattle on your operation.

Modified live versus killed

The two major types of injectable respiratory vaccines are modified live and killed.

Modified live vaccines generate a very rapid and strong immune response; are generally less expensive; provide longer-lasting protection; have a shorter meat withdrawal; and are available in smaller, two-ml doses.

However, there’s a trade-off.

Modified live vaccines must be reconstituted with a sterile solution and be used immediately after mixing. They can also cause abortions in naive animals or those not vaccinated with the same brand and type of vaccine prior to becoming pregnant. Failure to booster annually can also cause an animal to immunologically revert to naive status.

So you must be on an approved modified live vaccination protocol before using these products and exactly follow the label directions before administering to a pregnant animal.

This is where a killed vaccine has a distinct advantage — it can be used in any animal, open or pregnant, at almost any time without concern. (However, booster vaccinations are often required to achieve adequate immunity.)

You can also refrigerate leftover product and use it later.

If you’re vaccinating while preg checking, weigh your options and decide whether modified live or killed products are better suited for your operation.

However, if you vaccinate pre-breeding, there is no reason you can’t opt for a modified live vaccine, as it will provide the most bang for your buck.

Look for the ‘FP’ label claim

Whether using modified live or killed vaccine, you will notice that following the trade name there are often a series of numbers or letters (such as: 5, 6, 10, FP5, or VL5).

It can look like alphabet soup, but it’s fairly simple.

The number typically signifies how many different strains of viruses or bacteria are included in that product.‘FP’ stands for ‘fetal protection,’ which means the vaccine will help protect against birth of a calf persistently infected (PI) with BVD virus. The calf of a pregnant animal exposed to the BVD virus could be a PI calf and a lifelong shedder of BVD.

If your herd has experienced suboptimal fertility, is turned out on community pasture, or has newly introduced animals with an unknown vaccination or disease history, you should discuss using a product labelled ‘VL5’ or ‘10’ with your veterinarian. These products provide protection against additional diseases known to reduce fertility and cause abortions (such as vibriosis and leptospirosis).

The 30-day rule

An animal is considered ‘naive’ when it has not received the same brand and type of vaccine in the past year.

As well, calves often don’t have long-lasting immunity from vaccinations at branding and sometimes weaning, so replacement heifers are considered naive for the purposes of pre-breeding vaccinations (even if they meet the one-year criteria). You need to vaccinate naive breeding animals and particularly replacement heifers against common respiratory pathogens known to cause abortions prior to breeding.

However, the IBR (Rednose) viral component in modified live respiratory vaccines causes temporary inflammation in the ovaries. This can affect fertility for one cycle following administration in naive animals.

So vaccinate those replacement heifers and all other naive animals at least 30 days prior to breeding. Booster vaccinations can also be administered within the 30-day window without causing any negative impacts on fertility.

Tetanus threat

Tetanus is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani, which thrive in wounds or tissue with little to no exposure to oxygen. Unlike castrating by knife, banding will often cause severe necrosis of the scrotum with pockets of dying tissue not exposed to oxygen — so tetanus is most common with banded bulls.

That makes it imperative to vaccinate with a seven-way or eight-way Clostridial vaccine that has a tetanus toxoid. Contrary to popular belief the ‘8’ does not automatically mean the vaccine provides protection against tetanus — it usually means it’s also effective against Clostridium hemolyticum, the bacteria responsible for Red Water disease.

Cows can also encounter Clostridium tetani spores in the soil while lying down to give birth. Once in the oxygen-deprived uterus, this can result in tetanus and subsequent death. So cows can also benefit from a tetanus toxoid.

Pre-conditioning works

There is a vast amount of research on the benefits of pre-conditioning and administering vaccines to calves prior to weaning. These include improved performance and feed efficiency and decreased morbidity and mortality. Pre-weaning vaccinations are highly recommended in all calves, especially if you’re retaining ownership for backgrounding, finishing, or development as replacement heifers.

In the right relationship with buyers, pre-conditioned calves may also command a higher price. And they’re only going to be more sought after as we reduce our reliance on antimicrobials.

A protocol for your ranch

No two cow herds are alike. Every ranch has its own unique combination of opportunities and challenges.

While there are subtle differences between those different-coloured boxes, in the end, it is far more important that your herd be vaccinated properly.

That means in the right location on the animal, at the right time of the year, against the right pathogens.

Your veterinarian can create a customized vaccination protocol for your herd.

And keep good written records — which aren’t old invoices in a shoebox.

On multiple occasions, I’ve investigated IBR abortion outbreaks and discovered the cause was modified live vaccines improperly administered to naive animals.

When everybody is flowing nicely through the chute (that is until that last-minute weld breaks lose), it is easy to forget that new additions without a vaccination history should always be treated as naive. Our goal as veterinarians is to help you optimize the immune status and health of your herd through clear-to-follow vaccination protocols that are practical, safe, efficacious, and cost effective.

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