Cattlemen, over the years, have worked diligently to produce the best product possible. Different philosophies have developed different components of the management scenario. Keeping all of these components working together in harmony is still a challenge for most operators.
Each operation, based on location, history and climate has a different set of rules that governs how management should be applied. Tailoring management not only takes into account what is best for the herd, but must gently marry in cost concerns that seem to dominate an industry that is losing some ground from a profit standpoint. Herd health is one of the management components that depend on doing everything else right.
“You won't get an immune response if the cattle are stressed or have other problems such as lack of nutrition or a poor mineral program. Without taking care of some basic management, you're wasting money buying the vaccines. Proper management and low stress handling are very important to getting a good immune response,” says Mike Milicevic, Lykes Bros. Inc., Okeeechobee, Florida. Lykes Bros. Inc. is a century old diversified firm that includes many agricultural enterprises, including cow/calf operation that utilizes Brangus, Angus and Charolasi genetics.
“First and foremost, nutrition is at the top of the list when it comes to maintaining herd health. Cattle need proper nutrition from an energy and protein standpoint, as well as, good vitamin and mineral supplementation,” says Dr. Soren Rodning, Extension Veterinarian, Auburn University.
“I push nutrition to producers. If that's not there, then the immune system won't be functioning properly anyway. The vaccines just help fine-tune the immune response in that well-maintained animal,” says Dr. Christine Navarre, Extension Veterinarian, Louisiana State University.
Many producers look to vanilla protocols or general herd health rules to start up a vaccination program. Each herd health concept should be unique to individual areas, if not specific ranches. Enlisting help could be the first step in getting herd health right.
“A generic calendar that works for everyone, in my opinion, is a form of malpractice,” Navarre says. “Herd health has to be tailored to each individual farm. Ask your vet to help with timing different vaccinations or de-worming strategies.”
“For most, the timing of different vaccinations depends on the production calendar. With some operations this will depend on if you have a daytime job and are just working on the weekends,” Rodning says. “The health of the calf crop, early on, will usually depend on if that calf ingests the adequate quantity and the quality of the colostrum. More mature cows will usually pass better colostrum. Proper nutrition and a properly stimulated immune system will usually get those calves off to a good start.”
“Everybody has a little different problem. Work with your local veterinarian to know what to vaccinate for,” Milicevic says. “With the size of our operation, we have a hard time hitting exact dates. Don't worry about exact dates, but there is a proper time of year to vaccinate. Make sure you get them worked in that time frame.”
Properly maintained herds will adjust and respond to herd health practices. Poorly managed herds offer distinct problems before the first shot or vaccination is administered. Good husbandry will go along way to planning and implementing a good herd health strategy.
“A vaccination program plays an important role and enhances the natural ability of a properly maintained animal to deal with disease,” Rodning says. “In most cases, an outbreak occurs due to a breakdown in animal husbandry.”
“In our area, controlling both internal and external parasites is very important. We have to control parasites because they are immune suppressors, which make animals more susceptible to disease. June or July is a great time to de-worm cattle because the parasites on the pasture die from the heat. In September and October we have to choose products that will provide liver fluke protection,” Navarre says. “The timing of the de-worming is so important sometimes we have to shift the vaccination schedule. This is not ideal, but we're going to get a pretty good immune response in a well managed herd.”
The opportune time to vaccinate will differ from herd to herd. Taking an approach that will work with the animal's natural immune system will impact the vaccination schedule.
“Calves are born with the immune system fully intact. It takes several months before it is fully functional. There has been a longstanding debate on when is the best time to vaccinate those calves the first time because of interference from maternal antibodies,” Rodning says. “When calves are two to four months of age there is a time lapse from the protection they receive from maternal antibodies, found in the colostrum, and the their own immune system providing protection. Producers can raise the level of immunity with that first round of vaccinations at this time.”
Handling cattle in a low stress manner is equally important to getting the desired immune response. Different strategies will come forth as operations fine tune the vaccination program. Working calves will also depend on the marketing strategy planned for the calf crop.
“There are a lot of arguments as to age and weight for the ideal time to vaccinate the calf crop the first time. We like to vaccinate the calves in the spring at marking or branding time with a modified live (MLV) IBR BVD PI3, an 8-way colostridial, dehorn and castrate all at the same time,” Milicevic says. “It is also a good time, for us, to vaccinate the cows for reproductive diseases and put on a pour-on product to control lice, flies and other parasites. This will protect those cows through breeding season.”
“I recommend a blackleg shot at two to four months of age and a lot of people like to give that first respiratory vaccination at that time. With the development of some of the MLV vaccines, having cows vaccinated with this product gives us a lot of options,” Navarre says. “From a cost and labor standpoint, it is critical every time we work cows through the chute, we perform multiple management tasks, if we can. The earlier we can catch calves, castrate and dehorn the better. At two months of age there is very little stress on the calves or producers can use a homozygous polled bull to help eliminate the horns.”
“A lot of the losses incurred from herd health issues can be avoided with proper animal husbandry followed by vaccination. A great time to vaccinate the calf crop for the first time is when the majority of the calves are three to four months old. The younger an animal is when you dehorn and castrate, the quicker they'll recover,” Rodning says. “The respiratory diseases and a blackleg shot are pretty important for protection at this time. Boost these calves before, or the very latest at weaning. Increase immunity and decrease disease challenge through good bio-security, proper nutrition and low stress-handling. All these factors come into play with disease prevalence.”
Working within the herd to establish proper time frame windows will help manage against disease outbreaks. Health problems will often dictate the vaccination strategy. Taking the most effective route to ensure healthy animals depends on a variety of factors.
“Pre-calving vaccinations at least 30, if not 60, days before calving season work well to improve colostrum quality or the vaccinations can be given a little closer to breeding season,” Rodning says. “Decide if you're having more reproductive problems during the breeding season or more calf infectious disease problems during or shortly after calving season. This will dictate if we need to focus on pre-breeding or pre-calving vaccinations. The duration of immunity with each vaccine is different.”
“Some of the timing issues will depend on how tight the calving season is. Pick a time when the vaccination will work for every animal. There are some specific dates we have to keep in mind, but we can maintain some flexibility in the system,” Navarre says. “Each problem can be different from herd to herd and sometimes we have to work cattle in a time frame that may not be ideal. Vaccination sometimes depends on the problem. Ask yourself do we need more protection at the front end of calving season or are we having reproductive problems? This will answer some questions as to the timing of vaccinations.”
“We're actually vaccinating calves two times before we go to market. We'll boost the entire calf crop 30 to 45 days before we ship. This will give them time to have the adequate immune response to that vaccination,” Milicevic says. “Getting cattle worked in the fall, to provide adequate fetal protection, is important. I like to make sure those cows have a vibrio-lepto shot right before we turn the bulls out.”
Bio-security is a relatively new word for beef producers. For most, this is something that has not often been referred to with maintaining herd health. Management systems must account for the factors that will introduce harmful pathogens to the herd.
“There are some simple practices to follow that will help maintain bio-security and lower the risk of introducing disease to the cow herd. If you purchase replacements, narrow it down to fewer sources and know their management,” Navarre says. “New purchases are stressed and usually more likely to get sick. Quarantine any new purchases, ideally for four weeks, but at least two weeks minimum. Pregnant animals that you bring in from another source, increases the risk of exposing the herd to BVD. The quarantine period does little to protect the herd from things like BVD and Johne's disease.”
“Maintain good bio-security,” Rodning says. “On an individual basis, there are some diseases we can do a very good job testing for. Those things should come into question with new herd additions. Quarantine these new purchases and take the preventive measures best suited to the management program.”
Planning for herd health procedures can be a daunting task for some operations. Different situations call for utilization of day labor or positioning the cow herd to maintain a low stress environment. Regardless of the size of the operation or other limiting factors, plan to work cattle in the most efficient manner.
“Planning is extremely important even if it is just to make sure the local supplier has the vaccines on hand ahead of time. This will also help those who utilize day labor to get the job done,” Milicevic says. “For our operation, after the first round of vaccinations, that group will stay together until weaning. We'll estimate a shipping date and line the herd up with the group of calves that will be shipped the earliest. This gives a good interval to get that second shot of MLV into them. Once a group has been worked, we can move the next group closer to the pens a week or two ahead of time.”
Purchasing vaccines can be another barrier to herd health. From a cost standpoint most producers are trying to adjust to new levels for many inputs. However, for most, the cost of the herd health program is minimal compared to other factors.
“Some vaccines are better than others. Preference or cost usually dictates which one a producer will use,” Milicevic says. “Most are about the same price. I like to keep everything as simple as I can and I don't like to change things up. I'll stick with the same program unless there is a glaring difference in price. Stick with a reputable brand. Even cost conscious producers can't skimp on herd health. A penny or two saved today may cost you in the long haul.”
“There are different product choices, MLV, killed or chemically altered products and they usually don't differ that much in price. Therefore, use the most effective vaccine that is labeled for safe use in a particular class of animal,” Rodning says. “In general, the largest expense, for most operations, is feed costs and you can't really skimp on that because nutrition is so important to everything else a producer is trying to accomplish.”
“Be careful if you start getting a good deal on health products. Make sure they aren't counterfeit. Talk to your vet and have him help make these purchases. Buying from someone you trust is really important,” Navarre says. “Get together with your neighbor. There could be a price break if you can purchase vaccines and other products in volume at the same time.”
Continued education is also another important component of sound herd health. Many states have Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs. Enrolling your labor force in this program, will help handle and administer vaccines correctly.
“BQA certification could be a good start to herd health. It is a big waste of time and money to give injections that haven't been mixed or handled properly. We see this a lot of times when producers have problems,” Navarre says. “Pay attention to how you store de-wormers, this could affect efficacy. Producers need to make sure they use vaccines in the proper time frame and have good climate control because products are sensitive to many different things.”
“Following Alabama BQA guidelines, with respect to storage, handling and administration of vaccines will give the best results,” Rodning says. “Read the label instructions. Some vaccines are time, light and temperature sensitive.”
“All of my staff has been trained through the Florida BQA program. They understand proper technique, where to give shots and how to handle vaccines,” Milicevic says. “We're getting ready to have a refresher course for all our managers and ranch hands. To get the most benefit, producers have to understand how and why the vaccines work. It's usually not the vaccines fault when producers are disappointed. It's because of a contaminated needle and syringe or cattle are nutritionally compromised to the point where they don't respond to the vaccine.”
Maintaining a “top notch” operation goes above and beyond an actual vaccination program. Many variables can affect the overall health of the herd. Most operations look to practice humane handling, treat sick animals and provide adequate protection from pathogens. Letting the system dictate the management practices should help producers improve husbandry skills.
“A vaccination program does not constitute a herd health program,” Rodning says. “Bio-security, low stress handling and dealing with environmental challenges will go further toward a healthy herd than any vaccination program out there. A breakdown in animal husbandry is often the cause of poor herd health.”
“For most operations in our area there are critical times for parasite control, but most herd health practices can be pretty variable from operation to operation,” Navarre says. “Producers need to find a herd health program that works for them and time the management to get the most “bang for their buck.”
“Herd health is like a three-legged stool, each part (BQA, nutrition and herd health) must be equally up to the task. If one part of the management program falters then you're off kilter,” Milicevic says. “The real expense is not in the vaccine, it's if you didn't do something right and your trying to mass treat a group of calves. Losses in performance and the cost of antibiotics will increase production costs. The main goal of our herd health program is to provide good solid cattle. Our reputation depends on it, and we can't afford to lose that status with our buyers.”