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Proper vaccinations ensure herd health when used correctly

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lander – The Fremont County CattleWomen held their annual meeting in Lander on Nov. 16. Jessica Blake of the Lander Valley Vet Clinic spoke to the members about cattle vaccinations.

“A proper cattle vaccine stimulates an immune system,” Blake said, “and increases immunity to a specific disease. It cannot make an immune system healthy. A vaccine is not the beginning of a healthy immune system – it is the end of it.”

Nutritional considerations

“Cattle need to have a healthy immune system before vaccination and the introduction of the disease ranchers are vaccinating against,” she continued. “It all comes down to nutrition. The cattle need enough protein to make antibodies. If stock are low on protein, they will not steal from their energy needs to make antibodies.”

Having vitamins and minerals in the proper amounts is very important to the health of cattle. 

If the immune system is already fighting something, a vaccine will make the cow’s health worse. 

“On the day of processing,” Blake said, “make sure someone is looking over the herd to see which ones are breathing hard, came in slow, etc. Producers shouldn’t be making that decision as the cow is coming up the alley.”

“It should be when things are quiet and producers drinking a cup of coffee,” Blake added. “The person in charge should just be watching the health of the cattle. They shouldn’t be also running the gate or the head catch.”


A proper vaccine increases the success of a herd health program, but it cannot make up for poor management. 

“Ranchers rely on vaccines too much,” Blake said. “They are a tool, no different then the stethoscope that often hangs around my neck. If I didn’t have a brain between the stethoscope, it would be useless.” 

The most expensive vaccine is the one that doesn’t work. 

“What is a proper vaccine for one herd may not be proper for another,” Blake said. “Ranchers should be asking questions about their vaccine. When they walk into a feed store or a vet clinic, if the sales representative doesn’t ask questions about the producer’s herd, then they shouldn’t be buying vaccine from them.”

Blake uses a written questionnaire to learn about a rancher’s herd management before recommending vaccine. 

Key questions include the herd size; management techniques; purpose of the herd; what else the rancher is doing to the cattle on processing day; if a veterinarian will be Bangs vaccinating; if the rancher is using pour on; what were the cattle vaccinated for last year; what were the disease problems last year; and what were the death losses.

Making it count

Brandings are traditionally a social time for ranchers. Blake cautions that producers must have responsible people assigned to vaccinating duties, as they are running a business.

“Select someone detail-oriented to run the guns and needles,” Blake said, “and make sure that they are well-instructed. Also keep an eye on them throughout the day and correct them, if needed.”

Proper use

Vaccines need to be kept between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit and out of direct sunlight. 

“I like syringes that have amber colored barrels,” Blake said, “as it helps prevent the ultraviolet light from getting to the vaccine and killing it.”

Blake suggested using a Styrofoam cooler with holes bored in the side, so the syringes can be inserted into the cool and dark interior when not in use.

“If a rancher doesn’t have a Styrofoam cooler,” Blake said, “vet clinics have tons. My kid makes igloos out of them. With the holes, the producer can keep the cooler lid on and access the syringes easily.”

The cooler should contain a thermometer to ensure the vaccine is within the correct temperature range. If vaccine is shipped, the cooler will often contain a simple thermometer. 

Blake recommended mixing only the amount of vaccine that can be used within an hour. One head  per minute is a good average, so producers should mix only about 60 doses at a time. 

“Never ever put a used needle back into the bottle,” Blake warned. “Producers should always change their needle before drawing more vaccine into a syringe. 

“I see way too many people still vaccinating with a small plastic syringe and refilling the syringe after 10 doses,” she said. “Producers are introducing more bacteria into their animal each time and discounting their vaccine.”


Blake encouraged producers to use one-half inch to three-quarter inch, 16 gauge needles for subcutaneous vaccinations, and one to 1.5 inch, 16 gauge needles for intramuscular injections for big cows and bulls. 

Additionally, she said needles should be changed after about 25 head, keeping pliers handy, as the needles do not come off multiple dose syringes easily.

“If the animal is jumping when the rancher pokes them, their needle is dull,” Blake said. “When a rancher bends a needle, they shouldn’t straighten it out and keep using it. It has more of a chance of breaking off inside the animal. If there is a needle, buckshot or birdshot in an animal, the entire carcass is condemned when the animal is processed.”

Multiple vaccines

When giving two vaccinations, the injection sites need to be at least four inches apart within the triangle on the neck. 

Blake recommended color-coding vaccine bottles and syringes, to ensure people are drawing from the correct bottle. Keep the same color for the stock marker as well. 

“Lumps on the skin might be from the vaccine or the vaccinator,” Blake said. “By having people do assigned vaccines and always shoot in the same spot, the rancher can do some sleuthing to see if the infection was caused by the vaccine or the way it was given.” 

Melissa Hemken is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

After vaccinating

When caring for syringes never use soap or detergent, wash them out only with warm water, said Veterinarian Jessica Blake.

Soap and chemicals leave residues that will kill vaccines, especially modified live ones. Wash the outside of the syringe before cleaning the inside. 

After cleaning, Blake told producers to re-assemble the gun and draw boiling water through it. Do this a couple times, disassemble it and set it out to air dry.


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