Vaccination of the Beef Herd: New Topic Page

Vaccines stimulate the immune system of the animal to produce antibodies.  Antibodies (or immunoglobulins) are proteins created by cells in the blood or in various lymphoid tissues that can be found in the intestine or upper respiratory tract. These specific proteins help to destroy various infectious organisms that can cause disease. Cattle also produce antibodies when they are naturally exposed to infectious organisms.

Vaccines are certainly a primary component of our modern herd health programs, but it is important to remember that they rarely provide absolute protection and other management components such as biosecurity, nutrition and environmental management also play important roles in protecting the herd from infectious diseases.

When cattle are exposed to infectious pathogens, the immune system is stimulated to respond to these infections. It takes time for this complex machinery to respond to a pathogen when it is initially exposed to the antigen (either through vaccination or natural infection). As a result, antibodies aren’t created in time to prevent disease from occurring on initial exposure. However, the immune system is able to “learn” and develop a specific response to a pathogen (a disease-causing agent) such as a particular bacteria or virus or parasite. This is important because when an animal is exposed to the disease for a second time, the immune system has memory cells that are programmed to respond to antigens they have previously encountered. Continue reading

Think you have a closed herd? Think again.

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Research and Production Manager with the Alberta Beef Producers.

 A surprising proportion of producers believe they run a closed herd.  The 2017 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey requested reasons why certain management practices were not employed on individual operations.  Out of the approximately 25% of respondents who did not vaccinate their cows and heifers against reproductive diseases such as IBR and BVD, over half of those reported that their reason for forgoing those vaccinations was because they had a closed herd.  Similarly, over 20% of respondents did not vaccinate their calves against respiratory disease (BRD), and 30% of those indicated having a closed herd was their main reason for not vaccinating.

This high rate of mistaken belief in having a closed herd is not just a Canadian phenomenon.  A 2019 UK survey of almost 1000 producers indicated that over half of those who stated they ran a closed herd had purchased cattle within the past two years.  According to the US Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) 2007-08 survey, over 88% of operations with 50 head or more brought new cattle onto their operations in the past three years. Continue reading

Top findings about adoption of beneficial practices on Canadian cow-calf operations

Sometimes it can be hard to know where you’re going if you don’t look at where you’ve been. For decades, research and extension organizations have promoted many practices to beef cattle operators with the goals of improving production, product safety, and ultimately profitability. Recently, the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and Canfax Research Services created a comprehensive report outlining the adoption of recommended beef management practices over time and across Canada.

The analysis used a broad lens to examine all cow-calf practices from feeding methods to manure management, calving cows to retaining heifers, pasture management to feed testing, and everything in between. Recent data from regional cow-calf surveys and research studies were compared to foundational producer survey and Statistics Canada information dating as far back as thirty-five years.

The first of its kind, this analysis:

  • Consolidated benchmarks for parameters such as conception rates, weaning weights, death loss, and calving season length;
  • Compared current practices and highlighted long-term trends across Canada where possible;
  • Identified gaps in adoption and potential extension opportunities;
  • Recognized and addressed barriers for adoption.

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Intranasal vaccines are timely and effective

As he follows a proper vaccination program for his cow-herd, Ryan Beierbach also makes sure calves on his southeast Saskatchewan ranch are afforded the same protection. And for the past three years that program has also included early-season treatment with a nasal vaccine, followed later with coverage with injectable products.

It’s all about providing the best protection for calves against common diseases from the get-go, says Beierbach, who ranches near Whitewood, just west of the Manitoba border.

He administers a three-way intranasal vaccine to pasture-born calves at anywhere from two weeks to two-and-a-half months of age. As the herd is processed after May-June calving, usually in early July, all calves also receive an eight-way injectable clostridial vaccine, including tetanus. And then at fall weaning, they also are vaccinated against IBR and BVD. Beierbach believes in covering the bases.

“From the research I’ve seen, the nasal vaccines do a better job of providing immunity to the calf early on,” says Beierbach. “And from my observations, I believe I am seeing improved health in my calves.” Continue reading

Bovine Respiratory Disease from the Farm to the Feedlot

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Weed seeds and invasive species may be present even in well-managed pastures and rangelands, but it is hard for them to germinate, establish and spread in healthy, competitive forage stands. Stresses like severe drought, overgrazing, heavy traffic or excavation can weaken forage stands and create opportunities for unwanted plants to take root.

Researchers are now studying whether similar principles may apply to animal health and disease processes. For example, calves that were perfectly healthy on the farm can face a serious risk of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in the feedlot after experiencing the stresses of weaning, commingling, transportation and ration changes. Dr. Trevor Alexander of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research Station and collaborators from the University of Calgary are studying bacterial populations (the microbiota) in the respiratory tract of feedlot cattle. They published the results of a small study supported by the Beef Research Cluster earlier this year (The nasopharyngeal microbiota of beef cattle before and after transport to a feedlot; BMC Microbiology 17:70).

What they did: Little is known about what the “normal” respiratory microbiota looks like in cattle, let alone how it changes in response to any given stress. Because exposing calves to multiple stresses at the same time may have produced large, complex, difficult to interpret changes in the microbiota, this team focused on the effects of simply moving cattle from the home farm into the feedlot. They used 14 Angus x Hereford heifer calves (640 lbs) from Continue reading

Tips to make the most of your vaccine protocol

Vaccines can seem costly, and it’s not easy to see how or to
economic loss from BVD example
what extent they pay off. But cost-of-production analyses show that low-cost/profitable operations don’t cut corners when it comes to herd health. For example, the cost of a whole herd vaccination program for bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus in a 150 head cow herd (includes 157 breeding stock and 150 calves) is estimated at $8.20 per cow (assuming $4 per vaccine dose). If that herd wasn’t vaccinated and ended up with a persistently infected (PI) calf and 5% decreased conception due to BVD, they would suffer a loss of $45 per cow across the herd.

Kathy Larson, Economist at the Western Beef Development Centre, crunched those numbers for us during a recent BCRC webinar, illustrating that effective vaccination protocols developed for your herd with your veterinarian pay off.

Following her demonstration of the economics of vaccination, Dr. Nathan Erickson, Veterinarian at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine reminded producers that vaccines don’t eliminate disease completely but are able to significantly reduce the number of animals that get sick. Essentially, vaccines control disease, not prevent it.

Vaccines won’t be cost effective if they aren’t handled, stored, and administered properly.

Here are some of Dr. Erickson’s tips to help you make the most of your vaccine program

  1. Don’t store vaccines in the door of the frid
    vaccine storage fridge
    (41:40)Vaccines are very temperature sensitive, especially modified live vaccines. When the door opens, items stored in the door fluctuate in temperature. The best place in the fridge to keep vaccines is on the middle shelves.

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Economical vaccine protocols: Webinar January 17

Update: Missed the webinar? Find the recording and check for future webinars on our Webinars page:

How much does it cost and save to vaccinate your cow herd? Are some vaccines more economical than others? Which vaccines are more effective? Join this webinar to discuss the economics of vaccination, as well as best practices for vaccinating your herd.

Tuesday January 17, at 7:00 pm MT Continue reading

Vaccination: Can you afford not to?

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers.

Vaccinating your cattle is a lot like having car insurance – when you’ve been in an accident, you’re very glad you’ve got it. Similarly, if a vaccine-preventable disease shows up in your area, you will be very glad you vaccinated your herd.

No one vaccine program is perfect for all operations, but vaccination is a critical component of any herd health plan. Protocols must be matched to an operation’s specific needs. They are best developed in collaboration with your veterinarian, who will know which vaccines will provide the greatest benefit for your herd.

Sometimes you’ll hear Continue reading

Canada’s veterinary drug approval process

Health Canada’s Veterinary Drug Directorate1 puts all veterinary products (e.g. antimicrobials, growth promotants, feed additives, etc.) through a rigorous approval process before they are licensed and sold for use in beef cattle in Canada. In fact, drugs used for beef cattle go through the same process as drugs used for human health, with a few additional steps. Here’s a layman’s summary of this process. Continue reading

Vaccination tips for your cattle herd: Beef Research School episode

Vaccinating your herd is like buying insurance. Just like choosing an insurance policy, the set of vaccines you select should be based on your level of risk. A vaccination program based on your herd’s risk level will minimize disease and optimize production, while keeping the cost of preventative health at a reasonable level. Continue reading