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On-Ranch Vaccinations Establish Lifetime Cattle Health

Written by Tracey Koester

Healthy cattle equate to profitable cattle in all sectors of the beef production chain. Aiding in disease prevention – through astute management and proper vaccination protocols – is the first step in setting up a calf for a healthy life.

  In numerous published sources, consulting veterinarians and nutritionists have provided health and well-being recommendations for feedlots, but no published data addressed cow/calf operations on this subject. That is, until the Red Angus Association of America and Kansas State University teamed up in September 2016 and surveyed a large number of beef cow/calf veterinarians.

Vet input

  “We wanted to document some of the common health care practices recommended to cow/calf producers by veterinarians,” explained A.J. Tarpoff, MS, DVM, assistant professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University.

  Tarpoff served as corresponding author of the abstract, “A survey of recommended practices made by veterinarian practitioners to cow/calf operations in the United States.”

  “Each cow/calf operation is unique in terms of size, number of head, terrain and climate, and that is why the veterinary-client-patient relationship is so important,” he said. “But, despite operations’ differences, the survey unveiled a nice trend of similar vaccination protocols that veterinarians are recommending to their clients.”

  Responding veterinarians hailed from 35 states and three Canadian provinces, with a majority devoting 50 percent or more of their time to commercial cow/calf producers. Over two-thirds of the veterinarians’ practices represented 5,000 to 10,000 cows, with 39 percent servicing more than 10,000 cows through their clinics. In short, these are experienced health experts for cow/calf producers.

  The survey’s findings identified immunization as the most important component of a healthy beef cattle herd to aid in the prevent ion of infectious diseases. Vaccinating cattle is a relatively common practice among cow/calf producers, and the survey validated what many ranchers already know. Disease prevention via a thorough vaccination program is the foundation of good health.

  Even so, a portion of the beef cattle population remains unvaccinated, leaving those animals susceptible to multiple diseases and lost profit.

Disease concerns

  “Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is the most common – and costly – ailment in all stages of beef production,” said Tarpoff. “Feedlot cattle that break with pneumonia have decreased production and health, and it is the leading cause of death in feeder cattle.”

  BRD alone costs the beef industry millions of dollars every year in treatment and death loss. Viruses commonly isolated from calves infected with BRD included infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and persistently infected (PI-3) calves – all of which can be controlled or mitigated through vaccination.

  “BRD complex is multifactorial,” said Tarpoff. “We must do our best to reduce the stressors that contribute to sickness onset – like weaning, transportation, commingling and inclement weather. Through vaccination, we can boost and challenge a calf’s immune system to help protect him against bacterial and viral pathogens that result in illness.”

  He continued, “Vaccines are not magic in a bottle. Regardless of the brand, producers must have realistic expectations of the product and diligently implement low-stress management practices for optimal results.”

Buying health

Veterinarians aren’t the only ones who endorse progressive approaches. When purchasing feeder or stocker cattle, Cody Cornwell of Cornwell Ranch in Glasgow, Mont. focuses on management practices that add value to a set of calves, such as a vaccination protocol, program-specific ear tags, fly control and weaning before shipping.

  “The Red Angus tags – either Feeder Calf Certification Program (FCCP) or Allied Access – are a visual indicator of a rancher who is willing to take the extra step in their herd management,” said Cornwell. “It shows that they understand the importance of traceability and that they take complete ownership in raising that calf.”

  “If a producer is willing to enroll his calves in FCCP or Allied Access, we know they are buying registered bulls, traceable to Red Angus genetic lines. Age and source verification is extremely important right now for export markets.”

Sixty-nine percent of the veterinarians who responded to the survey agreed that calves should be ear tagged for management purposes.

  Cornwell reinforced the findings of the veterinary health survey, recommending a modified-live vaccine with pasteurella administered on the ranch. 

  “Ranchers need to set themselves apart so buyers know their cattle are worth more,” he said. “That marketing distinction begins by vaccinating at branding and then boosting before weaning. Those who don’t follow a vaccination regime or who sell bawling calves will be left behind in the industry. Do everything you can to prepare that calf for the next chapter in his life.” 

“Proper management starts at birth. What’s done on the ranch begins the stepping stones for the animal to become a productive member of the cattle industry. Properly managed calves are healthier throughout all stages of the production cycle – they perform better with fewer inputs to maintain production levels. Healthy cattle simply have a much better flow through the system,” concluded Tarpoff.

  The official abstract and veterinary health survey will be published in The Professional Animal Scientist later this year.  

The Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) serves the beef industry by enhancing and promoting the competitive advantages of Red Angus and Red Angus-influenced cattle. RAAA provides commercial producers with the most objectively described cattle in the industry by seeking and implementing new technologies based on sound, scientific principles that measure traits of economic importance. For more information, visit redangus.org.