The current state of the economy has insurance companies and investment banks in a major wreck. Bankruptcy notices are being filed, corporate takeovers or just plain selling out to a stronger competitor. This has many Americans wondering if investments are safe.
Many ranchers know the feeling, all to well, circulating on Wall Street. There is a lot at stake and cattlemen have had to employ all the tools at their disposal to protect their investment over the years. High risk cattle, that are left unvaccinated, are the same kind of time bomb we see on the Exchange, ticking away just waiting for the proverbial wreck or outbreak to occur.
Most cattlemen, however, were educated at the school of hard knocks, not Harvard. When their business fails, there is no multi-million dollar buyout for doing a poor job. Hard lessons, plus increased education, have helped train cattlemen to follow vaccination protocols that will help provide an insurance policy for cattle as they move through the production chain.
“Retained ownership or other forms of alliance programs have helped educate cattlemen. Giving proper, timely vaccinations can add value to the calf crop,” says Dr. Christine Navarre, Extension Veterinarian, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“There has definitely been a lot of information available to cattlemen on the benefits of a good vaccination program. The pharmaceutical companies made a big push with branded pre-conditioning programs to help educate cattlemen, along with educational material from Extension personnel and Beef Quality Assurance programs,” says Dr. Soren Rodring, Extension Veterinarian, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.
“The bottom line is people further down the production chain are requiring the cow/calf man to give proper vaccinations or he's not going to get paid as much for his calves when he sells them. The industry operates at such narrow margins, feedyards and stocker operators have become more demanding,” says Dr. Max Irsik, Extension Veterinarian, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
Willing investors sit down with financial advisers and set goals for their portfolios. Cattlemen must also review the business model and decide how much emphasis needs to be placed on the health program and ultimately, what are the expectations.
“The overall management system must identify the goals for these calves. If the producer is going to take a more integrated position and own these calves longer, there needs to be emphasis placed on protecting these calves from increased health costs,” Irsik says. “There are different end points for each operation. Most should set up a vaccination protocol for replacement heifers and it's going to be different from the one they use for feeder steers. It is a high risk business and if producers can get an immune response at a young age, there are going to be benefits through the production cycle.”
“The type and age of the animals you plan to vaccinate is extremely important. The goals are different with a feeder calf and a brood cow,” Rodning says. “Vaccinate each class of cattle differently to get the most protection. If you are keeping heifers for future reproductive use you may have to tweak the vaccination program a little.”
In most cases producers concentrate on a vaccination program that will focus on the viruses associated with Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD). BRD costs the industry millions annually. Cattle that fall prey to BRD, not only lose performance, but also do not grade as well.
“BRD is a major disease and it costs the industry the most money. It is really important to prevent respiratory disease in feeder cattle,” Navarre says. “These same viruses can also cause reproductive issues in the cow herd.”
“A lot of the viral agents associated with BRD set the stage for a bacterial organism,” Rodning says. “The virus wipes out the defenses and makes the animal susceptible to sickness caused by bacterial agents.”
“We can essentially vaccinate for four viruses associated with BRD. All are associated with high morbidity,” Irsik says. “This really affects our costs. Most vaccinate to prevent respiratory first, but especially IBR and BVD can cause some reproductive losses in the herd. It is important the cow herd is protected because you can get a little colostral immunity passed on to the calves.”
Once the goals have been established for a vaccination or pre-conditioning program, the big debate often centers on whether to use a killed or Modified Live Vaccine (MLV). Certain conditions require one or the other and like most good management decisions, timing will have a lot to do with success or failure.
“I am a big fan of the MLV. It will probably develop a longer lasting immune response,” Irsik says. “Most MLV drive an immune response that gets humeral and antibody titers as well as a cell-mediated response. If you don't know the health history on the cattle, use a killed vaccine, especially on pregnant cows.”
“With changes in labeling and improvements to the vaccine, it might be a little easier and safer for most to use a MLV. Some of the new killed vaccines show promise, but for the most part you're going to get better immunity and coverage on more calves with one shot of MLV, compared to one shot of killed, which will need to be boosted,” Navarre says. “I recommend two shots of MLV, because you're not going to get an immune response from every calf. Start building immunity early and the timing of the vaccination is critical.”
“I think most people understand the differences between MLV and Killed. The MLV more closely mimics the disease, which should really stimulate an immune response,” Rodning says. “A MLV will prime the immune system for protection and there will be a quicker response to this type of vaccine. Killed vaccines can be given to almost any animal.”
While producers have done a good job educating themselves on the advantages of the vaccination programs, most still fall down somewhere in the actual administering of MLV. Most come with a big “Handle with Care” sign posted right on the box, plus many warnings from the pharmaceutical suppliers. Products come with catchy slogans, trendy names and other promises, but without proper handling, producers may be left doctoring calves.
“People have to read labels and inserts on every vaccine. Most cowboys think they know, but this is the most important step in the process. They need to know what the dose is and the proper route of administration,” Irsik says. “Most who have problems are doing a poor job of re-hydrating the vaccine or not storing them at cool enough temperatures. The other problems I see stem from producers using multiple dose guns. Some will leave them in the sun and they're hot when they pull the vaccine, while others clean syringes with a disinfectant and then don't rinse them properly. In both cases, they have inactivated the vaccine. Change needles to make sure you have a clean needle and don't try to get one more head out of a bent needle or one that has a barb on it.”
“Keep those vaccines cold, mix and use them right away. Don't mix all of the bottles at once. I see people who buy large dose vials and they can't use them up fast enough. If you can't use up a bottle of MLV within an hour buy a smaller dose vial, because the vaccine isn't any good,” Navarre says. “Pay attention to the amount of sun light the vaccine is exposed to and always read the label instructions.”
“Producers have to use the MLV within an hour otherwise they aren't very affective. Once you give these vaccines some animals may shed a low level of the virus. This is usually not a problem, depending on the vaccination status of the rest of the herd, but still something to be concerned with,” Rodning says. “There is a cost associated with not being careful. Follow the label instructions and there is help available through most Beef Quality Assurance programs.”
Fuel, feed and fertilizer are commanding record prices, while most of the nation sits in wonder as the stock market tries to get new life. Costs of management functions surface when discussions are had by the hierarchy of any outfit.
“A lot of times the MLV will be cheaper than the killed vaccines. The biggest advantage the killed vaccines have is they can be administered to almost any animal with minimal risk and they come premixed,” Rodning says. “Costs for pre-conditioning programs can vary a lot because the feed source will differ from operation to operation. Costs change dramatically depending on whether producers will use forage or some form of by-product feed.”
“Generally speaking, most producers are looking at $30 to $40 per head for just the health part of a pre-conditioning program,” Navarre says. “The rest of the pre-conditioning costs will be somewhat variable depending on the available resources.”
“MLV are generally a little cheaper than the killed products. Either way it is a pretty cheap insurance policy considering what's at stake,” Irsik says. “In today's market, producers may not get a premium, but if you don't give all the shots cattle usually sell for less.”
Certain stress factors have been identified that can have an effect on immune response. Cattlemen have to be careful to introduce some management practices to the herd slowly, not waiting until weaning to perform many tasks that will add additional pressure to the well being of the calf crop. With the increase in the “animal rights” crusade, producers, more and more, will be held accountable for their actions.
“If you have cattle that are sick or stressed already, you're not going to get much response to the vaccines,” Navarre says. “If you will spread out management and not vaccinate, castrate and dehorn all at once, it should improve the immune response to the vaccines. You have to have a healthy calf and an immune system that will respond.”
“Depending on the age and stress level killed vaccines, boosted with MLV, could be the best option. Stress will play a role in immune response,” Rodning says. “Cattle that are in a short term stress should be able to respond well to the vaccines. If you start putting too much on top of them during stressful periods or stress is ongoing, then you open the door for a lot of problems.”
“When calves are three months of age, it is time to start thinking about getting them immunized. I also suggest producers castrate and dehorn at this time. Get that done early, it allows the calves to bounce back more quickly,” Irsik says. “Weaning is a stressful time anyway and if you can minimize stress, those cattle will have less health problems. Plus anymore, it's an animal welfare issue and people are starting to watch everything we do.”
Handling the vaccines and the cattle properly is not enough anymore to get top dollar for calves in today's market. It helps, but the 21st century beef industry is more demanding than ever before. Information is they key to the treasure chest and many value added programs require a third party audit. When the work is done, cattlemen must change hats and become an accurate record keeper to keep the value created through proper management.
“Producers have to record the serial number, batch number, dose, administration route and expiration date so that information can follow calves through the production chain. This information could be important to source and age verification guidelines or the new COOL requirements,” Irsik says. “If you have a problem with the vaccine, you can't go to the supplier and make a claim with no records. Keeping records is a tedious process and often the last thing a rancher does in a day, but it could be the most important. Raising cattle is a business and we all need to keep track of what we're doing.”
“In case calves have a reaction or you have problems later, you have the right information in your records. Those things are rare and more often associated with the killed products,” Navarre says. “More and more programs are requiring this information for the paperwork producers have to fill out.”
“Several things can happen like an allergic reaction or a producer could get a bunch of abscesses after giving the vaccine. In most cases, the same lot number of the vaccine could be causing other producers problems,” Rodning says. “It is important to have this information recorded if you have to make the call to the company or your supplier.”
For vaccination programs to be successful there are many other factors involved. Like most management protocols in the beef industry, simply gathering calves and giving them a few shots will not get the job done if sound husbandry is not in place.
“The thing producers need to keep in mind, you have to have a good nutrition program to generate an immune response. Proper nutrition extends beyond just energy and protein requirements, but also vitamins and minerals,” Rodning says. “Cattle that are vitamin and mineral deficient aren't going to generate an immune response. If you aren't getting the expected results from your health program it is usually because cattle are on a poor plain of nutrition.”
“Herd health really depends on nutrition and de-worming strategies, because both can have a huge impact on immune response,” Navarre says. “That is why I scratch my head when times get tough. People will swear by their health program and then cut back on nutrition.”
“The immune system has huge demands on energy. Calves that are vigorous, healthy and nursing a cow that's milking well will have the best response,” Irsik says. “Parasites can also greatly affect immune response.”
In the current economic squeeze, things are no different than they have ever been. Big business is provided a shelter in the storm, while cattlemen are left on a remote island to brave the elements.
Survival, a lot of times, will depend on instincts and market savvy. Timing of management decisions is critical to stay one step ahead of the banker; however, implementing the fundamentals of sound science and establishing firm relationships, could take most cattlemen to higher ground, keeping them safe from the dangers that lie below.
“Good bio-security is also important because cattle may still be susceptible. Just because you have a vaccination program on board doesn't mean you're 100% protected,” Navarre says. “There are huge long term benefits from a good vaccination program, especially from a reproductive standpoint.”
“Establish what the end goal for the calf crop is. Define what market you're trying to be in and establish the relationship with those buyers,” Rodning says. “Every situation is a case-by-case scenario. Producers need to look at each production situation to get the most out of their vaccination program.”
“With the cost of calves and the cost of production it is very inexpensive to vaccinate calves to protect an investment.” Irsik says. “You can't cut corners on health or nutrition and be successful. You can't buy naïve cattle cheap enough. You can't afford to operate after you get them straightened out. Producers have to do all the things that will ease the transition into the next stage in the production chain.”