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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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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.


Riverton – When bluetongue hit in the Big Horn Basin in 2007, it had severe impacts on sheep producers.

“Our research looks at deciding if vaccinating for bluetongue virus in domestic sheep flocks in Wyoming is a viable option for the future,” said University of Wyoming graduate student Tris Munsick at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 10. “Currently, we don’t vaccinate. We looked at the economic impacts of vaccinating, and examined the costs and benefits of vaccinating in the regions affected by bluetongue.”

Munsick partnered with producer Randall Jones of Otto to investigate the question, and his research is guided by UW Professors Dannele Peck and John Ritten in agricultural and applied economics and Myrna Miller in veterinary sciences.

2007 outbreak

The 2007 outbreak in the Big Horn Basin was devastating for producers.

“The Big Horn Basin has no history of bluetongue before, and producers like Randall Jones who got the disease in their herds were nearly devastated by it,” he commented.

Jones explained that the outbreak started in his herd at the end of September.

“I’ll remember that outbreak for my entire life,” Jones said. “I had no idea what bluetongue was prior to getting it. The first thing I noticed was a lamb that acted like it had something in its mouth. Its tongue was swollen.”

He continued, “Two days later, I cut over 100 head from the main herd that were showing symptoms.”

Because the disease is viral, Jones said supportive care was his only option. He fed hay and intubated the affected sheep to provide sustenance in the form of a gruel. They also gave the sheep a painkiller to attempt to influence them to eat.

“It took about 10 days before they died,” he said. “It was miserable and hard to watch.”

“Over the course of six weeks, we lost one in every six of our sheep,” Jones said. “It didn’t matter whether we were talking about the stoutest rams or the skinniest ewes.”

Jones also noted that the infections continued until late October when a hard freeze killed the midges.


During the 2007 outbreak, Jones mentioned vaccine wasn’t available at the time.

“The only place we could find vaccine was from the California Wool Growers, but federal laws prohibited it from coming across state lines,” he explained.

Current work to develop a vaccine is being conducted by Miller in the Wyoming State Vet Lab.

Jones added that insecticide is also useful for controlling midges, but using an insecticide dip is both time consuming and labor intensive. Insecticide must be re-applied every three weeks.

“We have to cover every area that the skin does not have wool with insecticide,” he said. “I’m convinced it will have an impact on controlling the midge, thus controlling the transmission of bluetongue, but I prefer vaccine.”

Economic research

“Working with Randall and Dr. Jim Logan has been great,” Munsick said. “We looked at the economics of vaccinating based on the 2007 bluetongue outbreak.”

Munsick looked at Jones’ herd of 1,400 sheep, 500 of which were affected. Of the affected sheep, 275 died, for a mortality rate of nearly 20 percent.

Using four methods and four scenarios, Munsick looked at the economic impacts of vaccinating

“There are four scenarios that can happen with a bluetongue outbreak,” he said. “We can not vaccinate and not get the disease, not vaccinate and get the disease, vaccinate and not get the disease or vaccinate and get the disease.”

Additionally, in his research, Munsick looked at the worst-case scenario, assuming naïve sheep populations, 100 percent certainty of disease contraction and 84 percent efficacy of the vaccine.

Munsick also used a herd of 1,400 sheep for his calculations, reflecting Jones’ herd from 2007.


In the worse case scenario, Munsick totaled the cost of an outbreak at over $72,000. Costs included supportive care, pharmaceuticals, death loss, sickness and labor costs.

“These costs don’t count for intangible costs,” he said. “This number is also variable depending on lamb prices and feed costs. We used prices for 60- to 90-pound feeder lambs in Fort Collins, Colo. from November 2014.”

When looking at vaccines, Munsick considered both modified live virus (MLV) vaccine, at a cost of 32 cents per dose, and killed virus vaccine, at $1.20 per dose.

Total MLV vaccine cost would reach $497.51 for the herd, and killed vaccine cost would be $3,499.93.

“We looked at breakeven costs,” Munsick explained. “How much would the outbreak have to cost to justify vaccinating every other year?”

He continued, “If the outbreak hits every five years, an outbreak would need to cost $1,478.92 if we use MLV or $10,403.89 if we use killed vaccines. If an outbreak hits every 10 years, it would need to cost $3,553.18 for MLV and $24,995 if we used killed vaccines.”

Munsick added that the maximum time between outbreaks to justify the use of MLV vaccine and killed vaccine is 48 and 18 years, respectively.

“If we see outbreaks less than every 48 years, we can justify the cost of MLV vaccine, and we if we an outbreak less than every 18 years, we can justify the cost of killed vaccines,” Munsick commented.

Munsick’s research will be finalized within the next four months. The Wyoming Agriculture Producer Research Grant Program, UW Ag Experiment Station and two private UW College of Agriculture donors funded the project.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

It’s the season for ranchers to start evaluating their heifer replacement prospects. During the process, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Veterinarian Russ Daly encourages producers to consider vaccinating heifers for the prevention of reproductive diseases and to help them build up resistance.

“Replacement heifer health really starts from when that replacement heifer is born. How we do that on our farm, as far as overall health, will dictate how healthy those candidates are going to be,” Daly said during a webinar about disease risk protection in heifer development programs. 

Infectious reproductive diseases, as well as respiratory diseases, digestive diseases and parasitism can all impact the heifer’s ability to grow, cycle, rebreed, maintain pregnancy and have good milk production. 

“The general things we do to take care of our animals, we have to do for our heifers, too,” he explained. 

Reproductive disease

Vaccinating for reproductive diseases like Leptospirosis is important. 

“There are basically two kinds of Lepto. One is the Lepto that is in the five-way vaccine, and the other is Lepto hardjo-bovis,” he explained.

The general type of Lepto common in the Northern Plains is primarily a disease in wildlife populations. Cattle are exposed to the disease by drinking water that wildlife have contaminated by excreting bacteria through their urine into the drinking water. 

In cattle, the disease can cause early embryonic death, decreased pregnancy rates and repeat breeding reductions. Occasionally, late-term abortions and weak calves may also occur, Daly noted. 

“The disease is widespread but sporadic,” he commented.

Lepto hardjo-bovis is a different strain of leptospirosis that uses cattle as its host, Daly said. It is more common in the southern states. 

“Transmission is still through urine, but the mucous membranes, kidneys and reproductive tract can also be affected,” Daly said. “It can show some of the same issues as the other type, like early embryonic death, and reduced pregnancy rates and repeat breeders, but it can become more of a herd problem.”

“If ranchers suspect a problem, it can occur more in heifer groups,” he continued. “It doesn’t wait until breeding age to cause a problem. Calves may become colonized at a young age.” 

“If we live in an area where it’s a problem, we may need to vaccinate the heifers at weaning, rather than waiting till breeding,” he explained. 


With brucellosis virtually wiped out in the U.S., except for in a population of wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Area, Daly said he’s commonly asked by producers whether to vaccinate for the disease. 

“It is so rare, it is not necessary to vaccinate cattle for brucellosis from a basis of disease prevention,” he responded. “However, what I do like about the program is the metal tag that can help identify animals through interstate movement.”

Brucellosis vaccinations are given by an accredited veterinarian to protect cattle against Brucella abortis.  Heifers receive a live vaccine between four and 12 months of age. 

“I like the fact that people give bangs vaccinations when they run their calves through the chute. It forces them to do some management after weaning. While the calves are receiving vaccinations, it is also a good time to pelvic measure and palpate their reproductive tract,” he said. 

Respiratory disease

Daly also recommended to ranchers that heifers receive vaccinations for Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Vibriosis (Campylobacter fetus venerealis). 

Diarrhea is not the main effect of BVD, Daly explained. 

“It causes infertility, persistent infections and abortions. The virus is really tricky and has different effects on the animal,” he explained. 

IBR, also called red nose, and Vibrio can also cause infertility and abortions, he noted. 

Daly recommended consulting with a veterinarian to determine what vaccinations to give replacement heifers. 

“There are a lot of products available out there for pre-breeding shots. If ranchers are considering a change in their vaccination program or the timing, I would recommend having a conversation with their veterinarian,” Daly emphasized. 

He continued, “Vaccination programs will be different in every herd. Ranchers with a closed herd may need different vaccinations than someone who has animals coming in and going out all the time.”


Vaccinations given too close to breeding can cause infertility and cycling problems, Daly noted. 

Sharing some research from SDSU, conception rates in cows and heifers are worse when vaccinations are given within 27 to 37 days before breeding versus 46 to 89 days pre-breeding. The first pre-breeding vaccine can be modified live (MLV) or killed vaccine (KV), but if producers give a killed vaccine, Daly recommended giving two doses 30 days apart. 

“Other research indicates as long as we set the heifer up with MLV early in life, especially IBR and BVD, it primes the immune system for later in life,” he said. 

Purchasing replacement heifers

Daly offered some final thoughts to ranchers who purchase their replacement heifers. 

“Know our seedstock source well. Ask for their past reproductive performance records, if they investigate abortions or stillbirths and have disease testing programs in place. What previous vaccinations have been given to the heifers, and what products were used and when? I also wouldn’t be afraid to have my veterinarian consult with theirs,” he explained.

Ranchers should use this information to evaluate if the seedstock source is a good match with the rancher’s existing herd health program. 

“If ranchers purchase replacement heifers, I would segregate them for 30 to 60 days from the rest of the herd,” he explained. 

He also told producers to take any dead animals to the veterinarian and have them posted quickly, before decomposition sets in. 

“If it is an abortion, take the placenta, too. It could tell the veterinarian a lot about what happened,” he said.

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..