Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth?

By: Dave Sparks DVM

Do you suffer from sticker shock when you order or pick up the vaccines for your herd health program?  Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to lower these costs without putting your animals’ health at risk, but you can do some things to ensure that you are getting your money’s worth of protection.


The first thing to consider is that not all animals are created equal when it comes to their ability to mount an immune response.  It would be nice if animals had a gauge, like a fuel gauge, that would read their level of immunity following vaccination so you could tell who was protected and who wasn’t.  The fact is you can’t tell by looking so you must optimize your management to maximize the immune response.  Animals that are on a poor plane of nutrition, especially for protein, copper, and zinc, cannot respond well to the vaccines you use.  Very young and very old animals cannot respond strongly.  Animals that are suffering from other health problems or that are convalescing are not able to respond well to your vaccination program.  Stressed animals are limited in their ability to respond immunologically, so letting hauled or shipped cattle rest for several days before vaccinating and handling cattle quietly to minimize stress will pay big dividends when it comes to response to your vaccines.


Most biological products need to be stored under refrigerated conditions.  It is not good enough to assume that placing them in a refrigerator accomplishes this.  A recent study showed that the majority of refrigerators used to store vaccines were not cold enough or even worse, were too cold and froze the products.  If you don’t have a refrigerator thermometer in your refrigerator get one and use it. The labels will tell you what is the optimum temperature for storage.  Nothing is worse than to think you are protecting your animals with high priced vaccines, only to be unknowingly shooting blanks.  If your vaccine supplier doesn’t have a refrigerator thermometer in his refrigerator, ask him to get one.


When cattle working day arrives, continue to care for your vaccines.  A small ice chest with frozen cold packs will keep the products cool in the summer and safe from freezing in the winter.  Many biological products come with two portions to be mixed when you get ready to use them.  The manufacturer knows what he is doing and there is a reason for this.  Once they are mixed, they start gradually losing effectiveness.  Never mix up more than you can use in 30 minutes for maximum immunological response.


A common question is “can I still use products that have gone out of date?”  While it is true that the manufacturer may be conservative when applying an expiration date, you can’t evaluate the efficacy by any other means.  You may not be providing the protection you need.  When dated products go out of date, throw them away.  Minimize waste by purchasing products that have a long date, only purchase what you expect to use by that date, and maintain good inventory management of products and their expiration dates.


Herd health programs are like insurance.  Every producer needs one, but all producers don’t need the same coverage.  Your local veterinarian will know what problems he or she is seeing in your area and what products are most likely to reduce the incidence of these problems.  Make your local vet your partner in designing a program tailored to fit your needs.  You can’t afford to be without the protection you need, but you also can’t afford to pay for protection that you don’t need.


Animal health products should represent a significant portion of your production costs, so make sure you are providing the management needed to maximize the response to these products.  An old adage among stockmen is that you “can’t starve a profit out of them!”  High priced feed, however, can’t contribute to a profit if you leave it in the barn.  Herd health products can’t help you be profitable if you don’t use them in a manner to maximize their effectiveness.

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