I spend considerable time troubleshooting health challenges on dairies and heifer-growing operations. I’ve seen a common challenge: gaps in vaccination programs. These gaps occur for many reasons, from forgetting to vaccinate a group, to using the right vaccine the wrong way, to overlooking the critical step of revaccination.

It’s important for veterinarians and producers to work together to close those gaps. An effective vaccination program spans key growth stages – from newborn calves to pre-fresh heifers – to help minimize disease risk and maximize lifetime productivity potential. Some guidelines to consider the big picture when reviewing vaccination programs include:

1) Open the lines of communication with your veterinarian.

I encourage regular conversations with veterinarians. Use the time to:

  • Review herd data and current vaccination programs.
  • Discuss any previous or existing health challenges.
  • Identify disease-causing pathogens present on your operation.
  • Determine types of vaccines needed, when and how they should be administered.
  • Create a well-thought-out timeline for administering vaccines at each life stage.
  • Help educate and train employees about why vaccinations are necessary, why following vaccination schedules is important and how to properly administer vaccines.

 

2) Understand the importance of vaccinations and the diseases you need to vaccinate for at each life stage.

Heifers are exposed to disease-causing pathogens throughout each growth stage. Work with your veterinarian to better understand potential health challenges at each life stage (below), which vaccines are necessary and why.

Pre-weaned and post-weaned calves

Goal: Prime their immune systems and get them off to a strong start.

Discussion point: Vaccinate to help support respiratory disease prevention.

Disease management is vital to overall calf wellness and helping them achieve their lifetime potential. Talk with your veterinarian about the benefits of delivering an intranasal vaccine at birth to help stimulate immunity where pathogens attack first — the upper airways. As their immune system develops, vaccination will help trigger a quick immune response and help prime the immune system for a memory response to subsequent disease challenges.

Don’t forget that respiratory diseases continue to be a health challenge in post-weaned heifers. Therefore, a second dose of an intranasal vaccine delivered at weaning is recommended.

Pre-breeding heifers and breeding-age heifers

Goal: Lower the risk of fertility-reducing diseases.

Discussion point: Prepare heifers for breeding by helping protect them against diseases that reduce fertility and cause abortions.

Consider a reproductive vaccination program that helps provide protection where it matters most — the reproductive tract. Look for a viral combination vaccine that prevents Lepto hardjo-bovis infections in the kidney, shedding in the urine, and prevents establishment in the reproductive tract.

Pre-fresh heifers

Goal: Help reduce disease challenges by building their immunity.

Discussion point: Protect pre-fresh heifers’ fragile immune systems.

Pre-fresh immunity can be compromised when heifers start preparing for freshening and colostrum production for their calves. This change, coupled with the demands of lactation, weakens their ability to respond to disease exposure.

Consider vaccinating pre-fresh heifers to help reduce the risk of respiratory infections. An intranasal vaccine can help trigger a quick immune response to help prime the immune system.

Pre-fresh heifers also are at higher risk of salmonellosis. Controlling Salmonella can help prevent infection of the rest of the herd.

Vaccinating against scours is important for adequate antibody transfer into the colostrum. Vaccinate healthy pregnant heifers to help them develop protective antibodies to bolster colostrum, which passes disease-fighting antibodies to calves.

 

3) Understand the importance of duration of immunity (DOI).

The DOI is the minimum duration you can expect a vaccine to help protect your cattle. Each antigen in the vaccine may have different DOI claims, and many vaccines may not have a demonstrated DOI on the label at all. In general, you should select vaccines with longer demonstrated protection to help ensure protection during critical exposure periods when resistance is low and disease challenge is high.

 

4) Maintain bulletproof records.

There should be no holes in your health records. For every single vaccination, include animal ID, date of birth, vaccination type, date of administration, dosage and any reactions, if any. Be sure to share these records, not only with your veterinarian but with your employees. It’s especially important for growers and their customers to share health and vaccination records with each other, and with herd veterinarians for both the home farm and the grower.

Greg Edwards, DVM, is Senior Veterinarian, Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis