Development of Extension Tools to Improve Vaccine Usage and Efficacy in Canadian Beef Herds

Project Title

Improving Vaccine Usage and Efficacy in Western Canadian Beef Herds to Reduce Disease Risks


Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed – consulting bovine veterinarian and researcher

Josie Van Lent, Andrea Hanson, Adelle Gervin – Lakeland College; Dr. Barbara Wilhelm – Western Canadian Animal Health Network; Dr. Eugene Janzen, Dr. Claire Windeyer – University of Calgary, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Bill Newton – cow/calf producer, veterinarian; Dr. Blaine Pickard – cow/calf veterinarian; Dr. Bruce Kostelansky, Dr. Dorothy Erickson – Zoetis; Dr. Janice Berg, Dr. Colleen Pollock – Merck Animal Health; Dr. Tim Nickel – Boehringer Ingelheim; Dr. Dan Shock – Hipra; Dr. Lacey Fowler – Elanco, and Marianne Possberg – Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association

Status Project Code
Completed May, 2023 KTT.06.21


Strategic vaccination is a cost-effective tool to prevent and control disease but studies suggest there is room for improvement in vaccination rates in Canadian beef herds. It is also a priority of the Canadian beef industry to maintain prudent use of antimicrobials in cattle to prevent, control, and treat disease.

Availability of industry-wide supported, nonpartisan extension tools for Canadian cow-calf producers and veterinarians to demonstrate how to use the different types and newer vaccines properly can support greater vaccine utilization by producers. Unbiased, short, easy-to-use extension tools that summarize major disease risks in beef cow-calf herds, with industry recommended vaccines, along with current information on efficaciousness or cost effectiveness are also needed.


The objectives of this project were to:

  • improve vaccine efficacy/safety and reduce vaccine wastage through proper vaccine handling and administration;
  • improve strategic use of vaccines based on specific herd disease risks and management;
  • reduce disease risks; thus, improving animal welfare and public trust by increasing producer understanding of major cow/calf diseases and role of specific vaccinations in a holistic cost-effective approach to herd management.

What they Did

This project:

  • conducted a survey of beef cattle producers to determine what vaccines they were currently using and why, as well as to understand what information and decision-making tools would be helpful to producers when making their vaccination decisions;
  • conducted a survey of Western Canadian veterinarians to better understand why they recommend various vaccines to cow-calf producers and how they communicate that information to producers;
  • developed questionnaires, decision trees, and check lists for cow-calf producers and veterinarians to facilitate evidence-based, herd specific, cost-effective vaccination protocols based on individual herd goals, disease risks, and management;
  • created a webinar, videos, factsheets, articles, infographics, and podcasts to discuss why producers should vaccinate, what core vaccines should be used in all Canadian cow-calf herds, information on major diseases, potential cost-benefit of vaccinating with various vaccines; and proper vaccine handling including transport, storage, mixing, administration, disposal, warnings, and human/animal safety.

What You Learned

In total, 158 beef producers and 31 beef cow-calf veterinarians responded to the two surveys. Viral vaccines for IBR, PI3, BVDV and BRSV were most used in replacement heifers, cows, calves, and bulls. Vaccination against clostridial diseases was lower in all age groups. Clostridial vaccines, other than for C. tetani and C. haemolyticum, are recommended in all North American beef cowherds. Therefore, these results suggest education is needed to improve vaccination against clostridial diseases.

Vaccination for pinkeye, footrot, leptospirosis, and vibriosis was not frequent, as anticipated, as these are risk-based diseases, and the effectiveness of pinkeye and footrot vaccine in commercial beef operations is debated. As expected, vaccination against bacteria associated with pneumonia, such as Mannheima haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, and Histophilus somni, was higher in pre-weaned and weaned calves than mature animals. Annual revaccination was not consistently practiced in all herds.

The most common reasons producers used vaccines was to reduce disease risks in their herd and/or because their veterinarian recommended it. Their veterinarian was their most common source of information about vaccines. The main reason producers didn’t vaccinate was because they did not believe they had disease problems in their herd. Other reasons included lack of help, facilities, or time to vaccinate. Veterinarians indicated the need for more scientific reviews of vaccine effectiveness because these reviews do not exist for all commercial vaccines.

Producers asked for information on common diseases for which their beef herds were at risk, and what vaccines were most cost effective. They also wanted to know the health and financial risks if they didn’t vaccinate their herd.  Veterinarians wanted more scientific reviews of the current research on the effectiveness of vaccines in the field and extension tools to help educate their clients about diseases and vaccines.

The results of the surveys were reviewed by the working group and a consensus was reached on core and risk-based vaccines for western Canadian beef herds, and what extension tools should be developed. The extension tools that were developed included: written articles, presentations, infographics/fact sheets, and podcasts on core and risk-based vaccines, fact sheets on 12 common diseases in beef herds in western Canada, which were linked to disease specific, detailed vaccination guidelines, and training videos and fact sheets on vaccinating beef cattle with good vaccination techniques.

What It Means

This project created many extension tools for veterinarians and producers to improve the implementation of effective and strategic vaccination protocols. It identified core and risk-based vaccines for western Canadian beef herds, provided information to producers on common diseases in cowherds to help improve their knowledge on what disease organisms cause each disease, the clinical signs of disease, and how to prevent the disease, with good management practices and vaccination, if warranted, based on disease risks, and known effectiveness of the current commercial vaccines.

Current, up to date, scientific information is important for cow-calf producers and veterinarians to help them collectively make informed vaccine decisions specific to each herd, both in the best interest of the cattle as well as the economic bottom-line of each producer.