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Newborn calves gain temporary or passive immunity from disease when they ingest colostrum from the dam since this “first milk” contains maternal antibodies. After a few weeks or months this temporary protection begins to wane, however, and calves must build their own immunities.

Vaccinating calves at the proper time can help protect them until weaning age. Vaccinating them too soon, however, may not stimulate much immune response. If the calf still has maternal antibodies in his system, these tend to interfere with building the calf's own immunities. The immune system sees no need to respond.


Chris Chase, who works in the Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Department at South Dakota State University, says there are several considerations that producers need to keep in mind.

“When maternal antibody protection begins to wane, we can probably get a good response to vaccinations by about three months of age. It all depends on how much protection the calf received at birth – how much colostrum, how soon for maximum absorption of antibodies and how good it was,” he explains.

“In most herds, we won’t find 100 percent of the calves fully protected. It’s more like 70 to 80 percent. When developing calf vaccination programs, we need to know what disease problems are going on in the herd,” he adds.

If it’s a herd that has had issues with bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), for instance, this will necessitate a different plan than if the herd has not had problems.

“BRSV is notorious for having maternal interference at low levels that can last for a long time,” says Chase.

If the calf received some antibodies against BRSV from colostrum, the calf may not gain much immunity from an injected vaccine, unless it is adjuvanted, until those maternal antibodies are gone from his system.

Individual environment

“Producers need to have a plan for their own situation. There are many protocols, and a rancher might decide to give their calves vaccinations for IBR (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis) and BVD (bovine viral diarrhea), but in reality those two diseases are generally not an issue in young calves,” Chase says, adding that ranchers need to be more concerned with these diseases as calves approach weaning age.

“Some herds, however, have trouble with summer pneumonia in young calves, and BRSV is a problem. In these cases we can use the intranasal vaccine,” says Chase.

“The intranasal vaccine does have the ability to get around maternal antibodies. The other thing a producer can do is use an adjuvanted vaccine. In most cases people think that only an inactivated vaccine is adjuvanted, but we do have some adjuvanted modified-live vaccines,” he explains.

“If we know we have a summer pneumonia problem, BRSV is usually the culprit. There’s no vaccine just for BRSV, however. We have to use the combination product, even though at this age in calves the BRSV is the only thing we are really worried about,” he says.

Identifying disease

“Producers need to know what they are dealing with. There are some tests, using deep pharyngeal swabs and some other ways to get material from deep in the back of the throat, to get a more accurate diagnosis,” Chase says.

A diagnosis is important to know what diseases should be included in a vaccination program.

“At this point in time, the intranasal vaccine will give the most likelihood of success and the least likelihood of failure in that age group. From two weeks up to three months, this makes the most sense, particularly if producers are worried about BRSV. The adjuvanted modified-live vaccine, where we give a single dose, also has some usefulness, but I haven’t seen enough data yet in young calves with agents other than BVD,” he says.


For calves, depending on what the producer must deal with, there are also seven-way clostridial vaccines that can be given at a young age.

“The interesting thing with these is that the literature tells us that if there are maternal antibodies present, they might not work, but field experience shows that those vaccines definitely have some efficacy. This is especially true if we are looking at C. perfringens in young calves, or blackleg,” he says.

“We can give these vaccines and not have to worry about problems with maternal antibody interference. Part of the reason is that with Clostridia we are actually vaccinating against an exotoxin. This is a simpler antigen, and it’s easier for the immune system to see and attack, compared with some of the viruses,” explains Chase.

If a producer is having problems with enterotoxemia, for instance, calves can be vaccinated at a very young age, even if the cows were vaccinated during pregnancy to stimulate high levels of maternal antibodies in the colostrum.


As a rule of thumb, most western ranchers give calfhood vaccinations at branding time.

“When vaccinating calves at this age, the goal is often just to prepare them for whatever they will encounter at weaning time,” says Chase.

It’s like a set-up vaccination that will then be boostered at weaning. If producers want to give a vaccination just prior to or at weaning, it’s good to have this initial shot at an earlier age, he adds.

Maternal antibodies tend to interfere longer with some of the viral diseases, compared with some of the bacterial infections that create toxins.”

“The viruses are big proteins and have to be broken down and processed by the immune system to be fully recognized and attacked,” he says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines stress the use of clean syringes and needles for any type of injection to minimize the risk of contamination or infection at the injection site.

Sterile, disposable syringes and needles that are used just once, on only one animal, are the safest, but most producers are processing multiple animals at once and utilize multi-dose syringes.

If care is taken when filling syringes, using a sterile needle each time to draw the product from the bottle, and if the needles on the syringes are changed each time they are refill, contamination is kept to a minimum.


It is also important to properly clean syringes after use.

Rachel Endecott, Extension beef cattle specialist at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., says that when producers finish giving injections, the sooner they can rinse out the syringes, the better.

“It will be easier to get everything out. Don’t leave syringes on the counter for a week or until next year and then try to clean them. The sooner we can get them clean, the better – even if it’s just a quick rinse and then a more thorough cleaning later that day when we have more time,” she says, adding, “Leaving residue in there to dry and solidify makes it more challenging when we try to clean it.”

In years past, with the old, glass syringes, people just took them apart to boil all the pieces, and this still works, she adds.

“I think the newer syringes with nylon/plastic barrels are also durable enough to withstand boiling water,” says Endecott.

The important thing is to not use any soaps or disinfectants because any residue from those can inactivate modified live vaccines.

“Instead, producers should use very hot water.  My tip for cleaning syringes is to clean it until we think it’s clean and then do it one more time – like that last rinse when washing dirty clothes,” says Endecott.

Multi-dose guns

Nora Schrag, DVM and assistant clinical professor at Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, says the multi-dose syringe guns are a little difficult to clean, but they always need to be cleaned.

“A good rule of thumb is to clean them with regular soap and hot water on the outside and hot water on the inside. If a producer has used a vaccine that’s very thick, take the syringe apart completely and clean it with soap and water, and then rinse thoroughly with clean water,” says Schrag.

Using distilled water to clean syringes is also important.

“Many people have hard water with minerals in it, and modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are very sensitive to mineral deposits and disinfectants,” she explains. “The minerals in hard water will mix with the components of the vaccine sometimes and cause some problems.”

She adds, “Never clean a syringe with disinfectant and then use it for a MLV vaccine, or the vaccine will be deactivated.”

“The final step is to boil some distilled water or heat it in a microwave for two minutes to get it boiling. Put the recently cleaned syringe back together. Then, suck up the boiling water and blow it out the end of the syringe three times. After we’ve done that, the syringe is not perfectly sterile, but it is very clean and safe to use to vaccinate cattle,” she explains.


“After the syringes are thoroughly rinsed with boiling water, we put them in Ziploc bags to store in a cabinet, so they won’t get dusty. Don’t tighten the Ziploc or it will seal dampness inside,” Shrag says.

Bags should be left open for the syringe to dry, and then they can be sealed.

“Then we can put that syringe in our treatment box, or wherever we will be using or storing it until the next use. When we pull it out, it’s clean and ready to go,” she says.

Sometimes after many uses, the plungers need some lubrication.

“We’ve gone away from using mineral oil for lubrication because mineral oil tends to break down the O-rings over time,” says Endecott. “Glycerin or vegetable oil are the most recommended lubricants these days.” 

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension educator in Salmon, Idaho, notes properly administering injections is essential to minimizing residue and injection site lesions while also reducing the risk for reactions and side effects. 

Preparing cattle

Prior to giving an injection, Williams says it is important to make sure cattle aren’t too dirty. 

“If cattle are dirty or their neck is covered with manure, move to the other side and find a cleaner area,” she comments.  

“However, the animal is so dirty on both sides that even if producers wipe off manure, they would be injecting into a wet, dirty hide. In this situation, producers need to wash the area and dry it as best they can. 

“If that’s not possible, we could inject into a cleaner area under the loose hide over the ribs behind the elbow,” Williams explains. “There has been discussion about injecting behind the elbow, especially on small calves where we don’t want to make their neck sore with a bunch of injections. This is not a Beef Quality Assurance injection site at this point, but if I had to make a choice in a bad situation I might use that area.”  

“Another thing a person might do is clean the dirty neck as best we can, go ahead and inject that animal and then change needles,” says Williams.

Proper needle

Williams also notes it is important to select the proper length needle when giving intramuscular injections versus subcutaneous injections.  

“Needle length can also vary depending on the technique,” she explains. “When tenting the skin to slip the needle underneath, we may want a longer needle than what we’d use on a syringe gun that’s just aimed at an angle into the hide.” 

A larger diameter needle is necessary for thick fluids that won’t readily go through a smaller needle, and mature cattle with thick hides require a larger-diameter needle. No smaller than a 16-gauge needle should be used for mature livestock, which means producers will be less apt to bend or break the needle. 

A smaller needle, such as an 18 gauge, can be used for calves with thinner skin. 

Restraining cattle 

“Make sure cattle are adequately restrained or secured before we give injections,” Williams emphasizes. “A good chute helps, if it’s easy to walk down a catwalk to reach the animals and not have to catch each one,” she explains, “but we take a bigger chance of missed dosing, bending a needle, creating more tissue damage if the animal moves while we are injecting, putting an injection into the wrong location or getting our hand caught between cattle.”  

“It’s usually best to restrain each animal and do it carefully and accurately,” says Williams.  

At the end of the day, Williams says it pays to take whatever time is necessary to do it right. Otherwise, ranchers may end up with abscesses or lesions in the final product, needles broken off in the animal or an occasional condemned carcass.

“Often, we are giving more than one injection. Make sure we put the same vaccine in the same syringe.  Mark the syringes or put color-coded tape on them, so we never make a mistake,” she says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A study by recent UW graduate student Tris Munsick, with Drs. Dannele Peck in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Myrna Miller in the Veterinary Sciences Department and myself calculates the cost of bluetongue outbreaks on Wyoming sheep operations.  The analysis is covers flock sizes from 256 to 1,440 ewes, with varying severities of potential outbreaks and timing of recurrences over a suite of prices. The results should be of interest to most sheep producers across the state.

The costs of an outbreak are manifested in a variety of ways, including the costs of caring for sick ewes – both the labor and feed costs associated with tube-feeding, drug costs and the loss of revenues due to both death loss and lower lamb weights due to delayed breeding. 

Estimating the impacts of an outbreak can be challenging, as not all flocks respond similarly. 

For example, we would expect flocks in the eastern part of the state to have lower costs as compared to flocks in the western part of state, mainly because outbreaks occur more commonly in the east and, therefore, flocks will likely have some form of existing immunity. When naïve populations are infected, we expect the impacts to be more dramatic and, therefore, more costly.  To account for this variability, the costs were estimated over a suite of morbidity, or sickness, rates, and mortality, or death loss, rates, as well as lamb and ewe prices. 

For brevity, I will only report the results from a hypothetical 640 flock.  For an “average” outbreak with 21 percent morbidity, 12 percent mortality and lamb prices at the 20-year average, the total cost of a single bluetongue outbreak would be over $36,000.  This represents a case in that just over one in five ewes is actually infected, and just over one in 10 dies. In the “worst-case” scenario, with 36 percent morbidity, 20 percent mortality and lamb prices at the peak of observed prices over the last 20 years, the total cost exceeds $72,000 for a single outbreak. In this case, over one-third of the flock is infected and one in five ewes dies.

The costs of an outbreak are obviously fairly high. 

The study goes on to calculate the cost of vaccinating against bluetongue.  I’ll report the costs associated with using a killed virus vaccine, which can be special-ordered to match the serotype in your region. If you are interested, talk to your vet or the Wyoming State Veterinarian. The assumptions regarding vaccination used in the study assume two doses are required at a cost of $1.20 per dose and that the vaccine is administered when animals are already being handled to minimize additional labor costs. While the vaccines are safe to use any time of the year, the study assumes vaccinations are done prior to summer grazing by June 1, so the flock is protected when returning to lower elevations in the late summer or early fall, when infection is most likely.

The study calculates the costs associated with various vaccination strategies, but given the fact that some protection remains for a period of two years, I will present the results from a strategy that vaccinates the entire flock every two years, and only lambs will need to be vaccinated in the other years. The annual cost associated with this strategy for a flock consisting of 640 ewes is $2,731 per year. This seems very cheap compared to the cost of an outbreak. However, this cost must be incurred every year, while outbreaks tend to occur less frequently.  However, if an “average” outbreak occurs every five years, this strategy realizes a net benefit of almost $5,000 per year, even in years between outbreaks.  Even if an average outbreak occurs only every 20 years, this strategy still has a net benefit of over $2,000 per year. 

Results also show that the greatest cost factor associated with an outbreak is the mortality rate.  Keeping ewes alive should greatly reduce the cost of the outbreak as it keeps breeding stock in the flock, reducing the need to buy or retain replacements.

The second biggest factor in terms of outbreak cost is lamb prices.  Results suggest that vaccinating in years of high prices is a better investment than in years with low prices. However, we rarely know in advance exactly what prices will be in the fall, so I would recommend vaccination regardless of the price forecast.

Morbidity rate is the third most important factor, however the impact is only a third as large as mortality rate. 

When making decisions regarding vaccinations, it is also important to understand the impact of location on the benefits of vaccination.  In areas where bluetongue is more rare, we would expect higher morbidity and mortality rates as the flock has had less exposure, and therefore less existing immunity, to an outbreak. Areas that experience more frequent outbreaks tend to have lower morbidity and mortality, therefore the consequences of infection are less severe. 

For example, if an area experiences a severe outbreak every 10 years, with 36 percent morbidity and 20 percent mortality, and assuming 20-year average lamb prices, the annual benefit to vaccination exceeds $6,000. 

However, if a location experiences an mild outbreak every five years with only a nine percent morbidity rate and a six percent mortality rate, the annual net benefit of vaccination is only a little over $900 per year. In this case, even though outbreaks happen more frequently, the fact that they are less severe results in lower benefits of vaccination.

It’s important to consider a lot of factors when determining the larger benefit we see from vaccination. The more severe an outbreak is, the benefits of vaccination are larger.  The more frequent an outbreak is, the larger the benefits of vaccination are, although only for outbreaks of equal severity. 

Often, as outbreaks become more frequent, severity tends to decrease, decreasing the benefits of vaccination. The benefits of vaccination are also larger if an outbreak occurs in years of high prices. Further, there will likely be a lot of stress and emotional costs associated with an outbreak that are not included in these results. 

The study presented here suggests that there is very little evidence to show that producers should not vaccinate against bluetongue in the state of Wyoming. A fact sheet reporting these results should be available soon through UW Extension, or feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any additional questions.

Properly storing vaccinations and medications can be key to ensuring animal health, according to Nebraska’s Beef Quality Assurance director. Rob Eirich told producers during a recent Animal Health Stewardship and Product Care webinar that antimicrobial resistance is real, and producers need to use good antimicrobial stewardship to properly diagnose, treat and dose animals. 

Using the proper method of therapy and the right route of administration is also important, he noted.

“The key is realizing that antimicrobial stewards seek to achieve optimal clinical outcomes related to antimicrobial use,” he explained. “Minimize toxicity and other adverse events reduce costs of healthcare for infections and limit the selection for antimicrobial resistant strains.”

Vaccine storage 

“Handling and storage of vaccines and antibiotics is important. Don’t leave it on the floorboard of the pickup or in the dash,” Eirich explained to producers. 

Performing a test of his own, Eirich used a thermometer to determine the temperature in his pickup in December. 

“It was 24-degrees Fahrenheit in the cab, and an hour later, it was 84 degrees on the dash, with the heater running. The temperature outside was 22 degrees,” he said.

Eirich notes that from studying the labels of various vaccinations, the storage temperature can vary from under 68 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit for non-refrigerated medications. 

“I have some concern about taking the product out in the summer and storing it in a saddle bag or putting it in our pocket and riding out on the range,” he said. “I think it could easily get outside its proper storage temperature in that situation.”

Eirich uses Draxxin as an example. The label indicates Draxxin should be stored at less than 77 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“When we look at what vaccinations like Draxxin cost, we would want to make sure and store it properly, so it is effective when we use it to treat respiratory infections,” he explained. 

Other antibiotics have varying storage temperatures. For example, Bio-mycin has a storage range of 59 to 77 degrees, and Excede is 68 to 77 degrees. 

“Consider the cold side, as well as the top side,” he stated. 

Eirich said, “We need to look at how we are storing our vaccines. Is the temperature staying consistent, and is it being stored at the correct temperature?” 

Check the fridge

Typically, vaccinations that need to be refrigerated should be stored at temperatures between 35- and 45-degrees Fahrenheit. 

“Don’t be afraid to use a thermometer to make sure medications are stored at the proper temperature,” he recommended. 

A thermometer will indicate if the refrigerator is staying a consistent temperature or fluctuating. Medicine shouldn’t be stored in the door because opening and closing the door can change the temperature, he said. 

“Store medicine in the central portion of the refrigerator in a cool area where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate as much,” he explained. 

Periodically, stored medications should be checked for expiration and thrown away if they have expired. Unused modified live vaccinations that have been mixed should also be disposed of.

Treating livestock

During treatment, Eirich recommended using some type of a cooler to keep medications at a consistent temperature. 

“Ranchers can purchase medical coolers, or they can create their own,” he said. 

Styrofoam medical coolers that vaccine is shipped to the veterinarian in work well, but a lunchbox can, too, Eirich said.

Other recommendations are to store vaccinations out of direct sunlight and only mix modified live vaccinations less than an hour before they will be used. 

“If we are using a modified live vaccine and a killed vaccine at the same time, don’t mix up the syringes. Putting killed vaccine in a modified live vaccine syringe could leave residue behind and prevent the vaccine from doing its job. Label the syringe with what product is in it,” he said.

Eirich said producers should also buy the size of bottle that is close to the number animals they want to treat. 

“Some medicines need to be used within a certain period of time from the first draw,” he explained. 

Use a clean needle

Make sure the proper needle is used for the vaccination given and the size of animal. A 16- to 18-gauge needle is standard, but if the antibiotic is really thick, a 14-gauge needle may work better. 

“As the medicine gets thicker, it is tougher to get it through a smaller gauge needle,” he explained. 

For subcutaneous injections, a one-half to three-quarter inch long needle is recommended, and for intramuscular injections, three-quarters to one inch is the recommendation.

Needles should be cleaned out with hot water to eliminate residue. Needles and syringes should not be cleaned with soap because, if any soap residue is left, it can kill modified live vaccine.

Eirich also recommended changing needles often. 

“We should never put a used needle back into a bottle of medicine,” he explained. “After each animal is vaccinated, it leaves residue behind on the needle.” 

“If we change the needle after every 15 head, the risk of contamination is just in those 15 head, not every animal vaccinated after we stuck the needle back into the bottle,” he explained.


Eirich also shares information about an app producers can get on their phone. 

“The Compendium of Veterinary Products” is available from the Google Play Store. The app allows producers to bring up products they can use on their phone, sort it by species and read about storage information and how to use each product correctly.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..