Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

The vaccine dilemma: Veterinarian provides tips on how to successfully vaccinate the herd

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Vaccines tend to be a common topic of debate between producers in the cattle industry. There is disagreement about what vaccines to administer and at what times.

Veterinarian Dr. Jay Hudson presented his thoughts on vaccinating cattle at the Johnson County Cattlewomen’s Agriculture Summit in Buffalo on Jan. 8. 

Hudson said the epidemiological triad is critical to keep in mind when vaccinating cattle. This diagram allows producers to analyze the host cattle, the multiple agents affecting the host and the host’s environment.

Hudson stressed the importance for producers to improve the environment of their cattle and not just rely on vaccines to keep the herd healthy.

“The health of your cattle starts with you,” he said.

Management practices

Hudson believes managing nutrition and stress levels is crucial for producers to keep their cattle healthy. He said management practices have a direct effect on the cattle, and vaccinations are not the only important factor when keeping cattle healthy.

“Producers can influence environment by using management tools, and this will influence pathogen levels,” Hudson said.

Hudson also noted stocking rate plays a role in the sickness rates of cattle. Commingling is also shown to increase stress levels.

“If producers over stock, it’s usually when they start seeing sickness,” said Hudson.

Each individual animal has its own, unique immune response. Hudson said in order to keep all cattle healthy, those with a weak immune system need to be protected.

“Herd immunity is essential, whether you’re talking about humans or animals. There are sets of the population which are going to have great innate immune systems and responses and others, which will be mediocre,” said Hudson.

He noted vaccines assist in developing high herd immunity levels, while genetics, stressors and nutrition play a role in which animals get sick as well.

Hudson said vaccinations are only one part of management practice. 

“No vaccine is 100 percent,” he said.

Individual cattle may respond to vaccinations differently than others. He said the age of cattle and the operation/production system plays a role in vaccination response.

Producers introduce new cattle to the herd using different strategies, and it directly impacts the health of the herd.

“Closed herds, which don’t allow outside cattle to come in are notoriously the healthiest,” said Hudson.

When to vaccinate

Vaccinating cattle too many times throughout the year or giving cattle too many vaccinations at one time can put a lot of added stress on the animals.

“Those less stressed closed herds, even when not vaccinated very well, are far better off than herds getting seven to eight vaccinations,” said Hudson.

He said many studies have shown cortisol – the primary stress hormone – inhibits innate immune response, particularly at a young age in cattle. Hudson isn’t sure vaccinating calves more than a couple of times is worth the added stress.

“Stress equals sickness, this will always be true,” he said.

Hudson noted the timing of vaccine administration as the most important part of the vaccine program. 

Studies have shown cortisol levels increase dramatically in both the dam and calf when separated from each other the whole day, said Hudson. It’s better to only separate them for a few hours after vaccinating and branding.

He also said heifers receiving a modified live vaccine should be vaccinated nine to 12 weeks before they are bred to protect ovarian function. 

Hudson noted he has seen too many producers inconsistent with the timing of vaccinations. He said new technologies claim vaccinations last longer than they actually do, and cattle need to be receiving consistent vaccinations at the correct times.

“Introduce vaccines at the appropriate time, even with this new technology,” he added.

Vaccines to include in protocol

Hudson said producers should be aware of over vaccination, but there are certain vaccinations that he says are vital to cattle health to include in the protocol.

Hudson said Wyoming is known for bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) outbreaks, and it is a must to vaccinate for. He noted BVD is complex and can be introduced at any stage of an animal’s life.

Hudson recommends vaccinating heifers for lepto hardjo-bovis (LHB), even if the cow has a good immune system. LHB can cause serious defects in a cow’s ability to become pregnant and carry a fetus to full term.

Hudson said cattle dealing with certain environmental stressors may need additional vaccinations.

“If producers are calving in an intense environment, under wet conditions, I highly recommend scour control,” he said.

Hudson also said he recommends mycoplasma vaccination for calves going to the feedlot because of the high possibility of being introduced to new organisms.

Hudson said bulls tend to be forgotten about by producers, but they are the “most disease spreaders in the whole herd.” 

He usually administers Endovac to protect against eye and foot injuries in bulls. Hudson said bulls in commingling and community pastures should receive TrichGuard to prevent the spread of trichomoniasis.

Hudson also encouraged producers to administer a lot of clostridial boosters in bulls because he finds a lot of unexplained deaths in bulls due to clostridial disease.

Vaccine handling

Handling vaccines appropriately can greatly affect the outcome results of the vaccinations.

“Keeping things cool and out of sun exposure is important,” Hudson said. 

He acknowledged bottle mount vaccinators as being a clean, safe way to vaccinate. He said once the bottle goes in, nothing is fed back into the bottle, so there isn’t contamination.

Pistol grip syringes are another option Hudson uses, but he noted there is a higher likelihood of blood, bacteria or debris contaminating the syringe, especially when one single bottle is used frequently.

Hudson said the most important factor is for producers to ensure cattle are being injected with a clean syringe every time. 

Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

  • Posted in Animal Health
  • Comments Off on The vaccine dilemma: Veterinarian provides tips on how to successfully vaccinate the herd
Back to top