How do you know the right time to vaccinate your calves- before, after, or during weaning? Getting the timing right appears to be extremely important. Lately, it appears that there are solid arguments for pre-weaning vaccinations, despite the chance that they may offer incomplete protection.
Dr. DL Step, a veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim shared his recommendations with Ag Daily. He suggests that vaccinations for calves should be administered between 2 and 4 months of age. Colostrum in the milk consumed by nursing calves protects them from infection from a week to a month or two after birth. Then their own immune systems start to kick in. The best time to vaccinate is thought to be during this transition phase where the calves are losing benefits of colostrum and starting to build up their own immunity. The following are three advantages of vaccinating pre-weaned calves:
1. Reduced stress
During weaning calves go through a lot. Their diets change and they are often moved. They are castrated. Springtime temperatures and weather patterns can fluctuate vastly. All of this is stressful on calves, and can cause immunosuppression- which means they are more likely to get sick.
“Early vaccination gives calves the opportunity to stimulate their immune systems to work at optimum levels,” said Dr. Step.
2. Enhanced BRD and BVDV protection
Vaccinating earlier allows the calves to build up an immune response so they don’t get sick later. This is critical- especially when it comes to Bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Calves that get BRD can weigh up to 36 pounds less at weaning than calves that don’t. It can have a huge impact.
Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), is another disease that can be prevented with pre-weaning vaccines. BVDV causes reproductive, digestive, and respiratory problems in cattle. It is also spread between cattle easily. Calves that are 5 to 6 weeks of age can be effectively immunized against BVDV.
“BVDV Type 1b has been identified as the most common subtype found in persistently infected calves, so make sure the vaccine you choose offers solid protection against it,” Dr. Step recommended.
3. Cost effective
If your calves are not gaining as much weight because of BRD infection, it can be costly. The average annual cost of BRD in the U.S. cattle industry is more than $640 million a year.
“When your calves are protected and healthy, it will show in their performance and well-being,” said Dr. Step.
If you vaccinate calves before weaning, you’re doing three good things for your operation. You’re taking better care of your herd by reducing overall stress on your calves, preventing costly infections, and probably saving your operation money in the long run.
Heather Smith-Thomas of Wallaces Farmer provides additional considerations for vaccinating prior to weaning. She notes recommendations from James England of the Caine Center at the University of Idaho. England says many calves are vaccinated at branding time, which is between 6 and 10 weeks of age.
“Depending on the age of the calf, there may be some that don’t respond to a modified-live virus vaccine at this time because they still have antibodies from colostrum, but I still recommend using the modified-live vaccine because the calves that don’t have residual colostral antibodies will benefit,” England says.
Up to 50% of the 2 to 4 month old calves may not respond- meaning the vaccine is ineffective- but at least the calves that are susceptible to illness will be covered. You can then revaccinate all the calves at weaning.
England backs up the Ag Daily recommendations. Pre-weaning vaccinations make economic sense.
More producers are using process verification and generally get a higher price at market, especially when dealing directly with certain livestock markets. “If your calves have already been prevaccinated, weaned and held until they are over the stress of weaning, they generally bring a few cents more per pound,” he says.
It’s also less stressful on the calves.
“Usually, the feedlot wants the rancher to give a pasteurella vaccine in a preconditioning program at weaning, so they don’t have to deal with the setback commonly seen in calves that are not vaccinated until they arrive at the feedlot. There’s much less adverse effect on a calf that’s given pasteurella vaccine in his home environment, with less stress,” he explains.
There are varying approaches to calf vaccination, but it appears that pre-weaning vaccination has multiple benefits. It’s less stressful for the calves, protects them from costly infections, and makes sound economic sense.
To learn about pre-breeding vaccinations, read our article here.
Image courtesy of NoDak Herefords