Your Reading List

Picking The Right Vaccines For Your Cattle

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We are really comparing apples to apples when comparing the numerous vaccines available from the reputable companies.

There are a multitude of diseases to consider vaccinating for, and vaccines come in a multitude of combinations with different types of administration (subcutaneous or intramuscular) as well as different dosage amounts (usually two to five cc). These possibilities should all be considered when choosing vaccines.

First and foremost, use the advice of your local veterinarian. He/she will have chosen the most appropriate vaccines for your area in the best combinations available to minimize the number of needles to be given. Veterinarians are an invaluable resource when it comes to vaccine selection, a critical point of biosecurity for your farm.

Generally speaking, vaccine companies are producing more and more vaccines in multiple combinations. This is because there are now several diseases, which are routinely vaccinated for on most farms. By having less choice it is less confusing to producers, fewer needles are necessary and the cost per disease treated actually comes down.

When it comes to the difference between different companies producing vaccines for the same diseases we are often splitting hairs as to their effectiveness (efficacy). Veterinarians make the choices as to which vaccine lines to carry based on several things such as effectiveness, route of administration, dosage amount and dose sizing per container. Availability, price, timing of administration and service given by the sales force are all considered when making the selection.

All reputable companies have data to support the effectiveness of their vaccine over others. We are really comparing apples to apples when comparing the numerous vaccines available from the reputable companies. Again your veterinarian will know which products compare favourably to one another.


There are a few misconceptions around changing vaccine lines and the thought of needing to start the whole vaccine protocol over again. Different vaccine lines will generally boost the immune response from a previous vaccination from a different line of vaccines. Of course the diseases in the vaccines must be the same. The important thing to remember whether it be from previous vaccination or exposure to the real disease revaccination stimulates the body’s immune system to develop further protection from sickness.

Certain geographic areas in Canada have a higher incidence of specific diseases and vaccination may be considered. An example of this would be Clostridium Hemolyticum in central west Alberta. Horses are vaccinated for rabies in certain regions of Eastern Canada. Herds that have had prior history of leptospirosis may vaccinate and in outbreaks of anthrax the contact herd as well as neighbouring herds may be vaccinated in subsequent years. Anthrax is a reportable disease so the federal vets will vaccinate the contact herd for the first few years.

There are vaccines for other reportable diseases such as foot and mouth disease or brucellosis, but they are not allowed to be used in Canada. That’s because we are free of these diseases and want to keep the disease out. If we were to vaccinate, the protection the vaccine affords could mask symptoms and carrier animals might develop. Tests for disease exposure often cannot differentiate between exposure to the real disease or vaccination so eradication is therefore difficult.


Now in most herds across Western Canada, vaccination for the diseases of IBR, BVD, PI3, clostridials (blackleg group seven-or eight-way or now nine-way), hemophilus, and BRSV are pretty much commonplace. Scours vaccination is becoming commonplace for the breeding animals in especially the larger herds. A multitude of other vaccinations including the pasteurella vaccines for pneumonia, foot rot especially in the breeding bulls, pinkeye vaccines and leptospirosis vaccines are being more commonly used. Other vaccines for mastitis (in dairies), and as already mentioned anthrax are used in special occasions and would be done in direct consultation with your veterinarian.

The appropriate timing is critical in order to get maximum benefit from your investment in the vaccination process. A perfect example of this would be the current scour vaccines. Each company has a different concept as to how challenge occurs. As a result in order to achieve maximal benefit the timing of vaccination before calving is critical and varies considerably between the different products. Some can be given as short as two weeks before calving where others must be about two to three months before calving in order to achieve optimal results. It is extremely important to know which vaccine will fit in best with your management and processing schedule.

Also storage of vaccines (almost all need to be refrigerated) and handling when administration are critical to getting the maximum effect. Freezing or overheating of the vaccine before administration cannot be tolerated.

There are no magic bullets of vaccination replacing good management. Proper nutrition, parasite control and sanitation go along way to preventing disease itself. All this augmented with a properly thought out and implemented vaccination program will severely reduce the incidence of those diseases on your farm.

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.



Stories from our other publications