BeefTalk: Vaccinate and Prepare Valuable Calves for Market
By Kris Ringwall, Beef Specialist
Vaccinate calves now in anticipation of weaning and preparation for sending the
calves to market. I hope the calves already have had some vaccinations during
branding or early summer cattle work, so now would be a good time to do booster
If the calves have not been vaccinated, now would be a good time to establish a
vaccination plan with your local veterinarian. The Dickinson Research Extension
Center, in response to the recommendation of our local veterinarian, uses
vaccines as an aid in preventing the infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus,
bovine viral diarrhea type II and bovine respiratory syncytial virus.
These vaccines also aid in the control of bovine viral diarrhea type I and the
bovine parainfluenza 3 virus, as well as the bacterial agents pasteurella
haemolytica and pasteurella multocida.
Agents that cause disease typically are present and will impact calves
negatively, particularly during times of stress. Vaccines that offer protection
from disease-causing agents are readily available as combination vaccines and
are named within cattle circles by the numbers of diseases that each product
offers as protection.
For example, a product containing four agents (thus the common saying four-way)
provides protection against four disease-causing agents and is available from
several vaccine companies and in several product formulations. Killed and
modified live products are available and need to be administered according to
the well-displayed, easy-to-read labels that the companies provide.
In addition to the previously mentioned viral and bacterial agents, the center
also vaccinates all the calves with a seven-way clostridial bacterin-toxoid,
including blackleg caused by clostridium chauvoei; malignant edema caused by Cl.
septicum; black disease caused by Cl. novyi; gas-gangrene caused by Cl.
sordellii; and enterotoxemia and enteritis caused by Cl. perfringens types C and
D, plus histophilus (haemophilus) somnus.
Some ranchers would say that is enough. In fact, some would say there isn't a
need to vaccinate. That simply is not true. All cattle need protection from the
various pathogenic agents that exist if there is going to be a potential for
The first question always is health, but unvaccinated cattle can be and
generally are very healthy. You don't find disease-causing agents everywhere.
However, when they are present, they will do some damage, so the second question
is about risk.
Unvaccinated calves have a greater risk of developing an illness with greater
morbidity and mortality when they have no immunity to the pathogenic agent
present. Good business sense would then say to vaccinate the calves if a vaccine
Good health can be achieved without vaccinating the calves. However, this places
the calves at a higher risk of developing a health issue. This concept is not
new because weaning protocols go back a long time. The North Dakota Beef Cattle
Improvement Association's Green Tag program was an early trend setter.
Quoting from an old Green Tag program brochure that was produced for the NDBCIA
in the late 1980's, "Preconditioning includes a complete health management
program that prepares the calves to better withstand the stress and adjustment
they need to undergo when they leave the home farm or ranch in route to the
feedlot. Calves are castrated in most cases, dehorned and vaccinated against
common shipping and feedlot diseases, treated for grubs and lice and had the
opportunity to accustom themselves to water troughs and feed bunks. Additional
practices are encouraged that include implants that stimulate the natural growth
processes, complete herd health programs within the cow herd and strong
relationships with professional veterinarians and animal scientists."
One could assume that not much has changed. The principles are the same, which
means protecting the calves is paramount and this protection needs to start with
a strong calf vaccination program. This is followed by a preweaning vaccination
protocol and vaccinating again at weaning.
With improved vaccinations available and more vaccination programs easily
attainable, it is very important that producers follow label directions and
protocols developed by the vaccine producers and their local veterinarian.
The end result is calves that can withstand the rigors of life without mom and
easily adapt to any calf system. Those calves are very valuable in today's
May you find all your ear tags.