Calf Vaccines in Beef Cattle

Calf Vaccines in Beef Cattle

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  Cattle General Health Care

Dr. Colleen Lewis / May 10, 2017

“What should we use to vaccinate our calves?” is one of the most common questions asked in our cattle practice. I have laid out a rough draft of some of the most common core vaccines used in beef calves from 2 to 10 months of age. There are certainly different sets of circumstances that will have me deviate from the following plan, however, this is usually a good place to start.

Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis:  IBR, Red Nose
Parainfluenza 3:  P
Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus:  
Bovine Viral Diarrhea (Types 1 &2):  
The vaccines for this group of viral diseases are usually given together in a combination product, marketed as a 4-way or a 5-way and labeled to be injected either under the skin (subcutaneously- Sub Q or SQ) or in the muscle (IM). A 5-way is named by simply counting all four viruses types including both types of BVD (type 1 & 2). Always double check to be sure all the viruses that you are looking for, including both types of BVD, are present in your upper respiratory vaccine.

There are also a few very effective intranasal vaccines on the market that contain IBR and PI3 (2-way), or IBR, PI3 and BRSV (3-way) in combination. You may decide to include an intranasal in your program if you are having specific upper respiratory issues in younger calves, or in weaned, high stress cattle. The intranasal vaccines promote the production of interferon, which helps to increase immune response to viruses and bacteria trying to invade the respiratory system. Jetting an intranasal vaccine into the nose is called mucosal delivery, since the vaccine is meant to touch the mucosal lining of the nasal passages. According to research published in Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology (1989) and the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (2013), mucosal delivery of vaccines is more likely to “override” the maternal antibodies passed through the colostrum (passive immunization) and prime the immune system in the passively immune young animal. Intranasal vaccines are one way we can get around maternal antibody interference. At the time of posting, none of the intranasal products on the market contain BVD. You will still need to cover your herd against BVD as an injectable at some point; pre-weaning processing is often an opportune time.

Clostridial 7-Way
This combination is called the 7-way blackleg vaccine. The clostridials are a deadly group of bacteria that produce spores, improving their ability to survive in harsh environments. The clostridials can also produce fatal toxins, that cause diseases such as blackleg, black quarter, enterotoxemia and gas gangrene. There are other clostridial species to consider adding over the typical clostridial 7-way, such as tetanus (C. tetani), and red water (C, hemolyticum), when in endemic areas.

Mannheimia haemolytica (formerly Pasteurella haemolytica)
Pasteurella multocida
Histophilus somni
(formerly Haemophilus somnus)
These three secondary bacterial invaders are big players in Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRD). Calves that are comingled or stressed after weaning are at highest risk for these diseases. My rule of thumb is simple: if your cattle are going to be housed in a paddock, dry-lot, feedlot, or introduced to new friends, add the above bacterins to your arsenal.

Brucella abortis: Brucellosis
The vaccination for brucellosis or Bang’s disease is commonly called an Official Calfhood Vaccination (OCV). The vaccine is a live product and must be administered by either an accredited veterinarian, or a state or federal animal health official. The vaccine strain, RB51 (we used to use strain 19), is labeled to be administered to female cattle and bison between the ages of 4 and 12 months. However, each state determines their own vaccination window, with some as short as 4 to 8 months (Illinois). Some states do not allow cattle and domestic bison to be imported for breeding if they are not official brucellosis vaccinates and they are beyond the age at which they should have been vaccinated. Heifers will receive an orange metal (Bang’s) tag and an official tattoo at the time of vaccination, creating a permanent record of vaccination status that travels with them.

The first eight vaccinations come in a variety of combinations to decrease the number of injections that are given at the time of processing. The 5-way virals are often combined with Mannheimia sp. or pasteurella. The Clostridial 7-way can be found with H. somnus. The brucellosis vaccine is never mixed or marketed as a combination. Many veterinarians give this vaccine alone, without any other injections or procedures on the same day, to decrease stress and increase efficacy of the RB-51 vaccine.

Modified live virus verses killed virus vaccines
Once you have picked the players in your vaccination program, you need to choose whether to use a “modified live virus (MLV)” or “killed virus” product. There are plenty of studies showing advantages and disadvantages of using modified live products in your vaccination program. Prevention of BVD persistent infection (PI) is one of the most noteworthy reasons to consider using MLVs in your program. Avoiding the pitfalls of using MLVs is very important as well, with abortions at the top of the list; IBR is the biggest abortion concern. Using the MLVs according to labeled directions will prove to be beneficial in most herds. For example, once a heifer has received a MLV IBR vaccine and a booster, she is qualified to receive a MLV IBR for subsequent vaccinations even while pregnant. Abortions in cows have been documented when their nursing calves were vaccinated with a MLV. If the vaccination status of the pregnant dam is unknown, or if only killed products have been used in the past, make sure you select products that are labeled “safe to use on calves that are nursing pregnant dams.” If you would like to add MLVs into your herd vaccination program for the first time, simply vaccinate your cows when they are open.

Follow labeled directions and consult with your veterinarian as part of your health care team when first selecting or modifying your vaccination program. Discussing the unique circumstances that you have on your ranch or farm will help to tailor a safe and efficient program to fit your specific needs.

About the Author
Dr. Colleen Lewis is a 1996 graduate of Kansas State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Her career has taken her to many places as a practice owner, consultant, embryologist, and mentor. She enjoys mixed animal practice, teaching, traveling, farming and high school sports with her husband, Andrew and their three boys.

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