Successful Farming - - CONTENTS -

Vac­cines can be a help­ful tool in man­ag­ing dis­eases in beef cat­tle, but they’re not a magic bul­let. When an an­i­mal’s im­mune sys­tem is com­pro­mised, vac­cines lose their op­por­tu­nity to work. “Re­gard­less of what class of cat­tle you’re try­ing to pre­vent dis­ease in, it’s im­por­tant to set re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions for the out­come of a vaccination pro­gram,” says Jeff On­drak, beef cat­tle vet­eri­nar­ian at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska’s Great Plains Vet­eri­nary Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter. “A mul­ti­tude of fac­tors con­trib­ute to the re­sponse of an an­i­mal’s im­mune sys­tem to a vac­cine. If you do ev­ery­thing right, you can see a good re­sponse.”

Build­ing an ef­fec­tive vaccination pro­gram be­gins with a con­sul­ta­tion with your vet­eri­nar­ian to de­ter­mine which dis­eases are most threat­en­ing to your cat­tle.

For beef calves soon to be weaned, back­grounded, or sent to the feed­lot, choose vac­cines that pro­vide a mea­sure of pro­tec­tion against vi­ral re­s­pi­ra­tory dis­ease and other vi­ral dis­eases.

Read la­bels to un­der­stand the level of dis­ease pro­tec­tion you’re buy­ing.

“Very few vac­cines are la­beled as pre­vent­ing in­fec­tion,” says On­drak. “Most vac­cines for re­s­pi­ra­tory dis­ease, for in­stance, are la­beled as aids in preven­tion and con­trol of dis­ease. You will still have some an­i­mals that get sick, but the vac­cine will re­duce the sever­ity of the dis­ease.”


1 Do­ing ev­ery­thing you can to help the vac­cine do its work be­gins by choos­ing a time to vac­ci­nate cat­tle when their im­mune sys­tems are most likely to re­spond to the vac­cine.

“Calves should be in the ap­pro­pri­ate nu­tri­tional sta­tus and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing as lit­tle stress as pos­si­ble so they can re­spond to the vac­cine,” he says.

2 To min­i­mize the im­pact of stress on calves’ re­sponse to vac­cine, vac­ci­nate two weeks be­fore wean­ing or after they have re­cov­ered from the stress of wean­ing. Also, avoid vac­ci­nat­ing when calves are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing stress from han­dling, weather ex­tremes, cas­tra­tion or de­horn­ing, trans­porta­tion, or com­min­gling.

3 Fol­low la­bel di­rec­tions for mix­ing or han­dling the vac­cines. When vac­cines re­quire mix­ing, mix only the amount you’ll use within the next hour.

“Al­ways keep it cool, and when you take it out to the chute, keep it in a cooler so you can pro­tect it from over­heat­ing and di­rect sun­light,” says On­drak.

In­ject­ing vac­cines ac­cord- ing to la­bel in­struc­tions also de­ter­mines their ef­fec­tive­ness. For vac­cines la­beled for sub­cu­ta­neous in­jec­tion, he rec­om­mends us­ing a ¾-inch nee­dle. A com­mon prac­tice is to tent the skin of the neck with one hand and in­ject with the other. Yet, this presents pos­si­ble in­jury to the han­dler.

“With prac­tice, you can insert the nee­dle in the side of the neck at a 45° an­gle and still be un­der­neath the skin with­out pen­e­trat­ing the mus­cle,” says On­drak. “If the sy­ringe is hard to de­press, you’re de­posit­ing the vac­cine be­tween lay­ers of skin, and it will be less ef­fec­tive.”

In­tra­mus­cu­lar in­jec­tions re­quire at least a 1-inch nee­dle. The op­ti­mal lo­ca­tion is the in­jec­tion tri­an­gle (in front of the shoul­der blade and above the spinal col­umn). The Beef Qual­ity As­sur­ance pro­gram has more in­for­ma­tion at

“Change nee­dles ev­ery time you draw vac­cine from a bot­tle,” says On­drak. This pre­vents bac­te­ria from old nee­dles be­ing in­serted into the vac­cine and, thus, in­jected into an­i­mals.

“The im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is that vac­cines are not a cure-all,” he says. “Many fac­tors con­trib­ute to dis­ease preven­tion, in­clud­ing an­i­mal health, han­dling, and man­age­ment prac­tices that re­duce ex­po­sure to pathogens. In pre­vent­ing dis­ease, fo­cus on the whole man­age­ment spec­trum.”

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Jeff On­drak 402/762-4505 jon­[email protected]

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