When cattle producers think about vaccinations, they more commonly think about vaccinating calves instead of cows. According to a survey published in 2009 by the USDA and the National Animal Health Monitoring System, a higher percentage of cattle producers give vaccinations to calves (65.5%) than to cows (53.3%).1
Joe Campbell, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., says producers are missing an opportunity to improve the health of their cows and future calves by not establishing a pre-breeding vaccination program.
“Our goal with pre-breeding vaccinations is to maximize the level of immunity in the cow throughout the breeding season and early gestation,” says Campbell. “We need to administer the vaccines at the right time to give that cow the chance to develop an immune response before breeding.”
Pre-breeding vaccinations are effective in helping prevent bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), trichomoniasis, Campylobacter fetus (vibrio), and leptospirosis. These diseases can cause early embryonic death, congenital defects and abortions, which can lead to more open cows and less calves being born.
Campbell says there are three primary objectives with a pre-breeding vaccination program: increase the chances the cow will breed and ultimately deliver a calf; help the cow become pregnant early in the breeding season; and protect the calf from becoming persistently infected with BVD.
“A persistently infected calf is caused between approximately day 40 and day 130 of gestation if a cow is exposed to the BVD pathogen and doesn’t have immunity to it,” explains Campbell. “By vaccinating the cow 30 days prior to breeding, it helps establish immunity in the cow before conception and that in turn helps prevent a PI calf.”
Many modified-live viral vaccines in recent years have received pregnant cow labels, which allow producers the convenience of giving reproductive vaccines at pregnancy check time. However, Campbell says this is not the most effective time to give these vaccinations to prevent reproductive diseases.
Russ Daly, DVM, South Dakota State University Veterinary Science Department, concurs with Campbell. In a presentation at the 2007 Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle Symposium, Daly says that many, if not all, reproductive diseases have manifestations early (first two months or earlier) in gestation. His paper points out that while convenient for producers, the practice of giving reproductive vaccinations at pregnancy check time is less than optimal because the peak immunity occurs well after the greatest threat to reproductive health in the cow.2
Depending on the label requirements, many vaccines will require two doses to establish effective immunity when a pre-breeding vaccine protocol is started. Campbell encourages producers to work with their local veterinarians to establish a vaccination program to protect replacement heifers and the mature cowherd from costly reproductive diseases.
1 Beef 2007-08, Part II: Reference of beef cow-calf management practices in the United States, 2007-08; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Animal Health, Feb. 2009; p. 52.
2 Daly R. Timing of reproductive vaccinations in beef cattle herds in Proceedings. Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle 2007.