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Armed with an understanding of how and when to utilize systemic and nasal vaccines, producers can maximize the efficacy of their vaccine regimes.  

Nathan Erickson of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine has focused his career research on beef cattle production health and vaccine program optimization. 

Tailoring to the herd

Erickson stresses the importance of understanding the herd’s unique needs and formulating a vaccine program from there.  

“When we think about vaccine management, we have to tailor the plan to the needs of the specific herds and disease concerns for the area,” says Erickson. “Blanket generic practices are just not optimal for every herd. They all have unique needs.” 

“If the herd is annually effected by the same illness at the same time, make sure to vaccinate in a timely manner to minimize issues,” says Erickson. “Vaccinations allow us to be proactive instead of reactive in these scenarios.” 

Maternal immunity

“The first thing producers need to understand is where a calf’s immunity is derived from and how it effects the efficacy of certain types of vaccines,” says Erickson. “A calf’s first immunity is derived from colostrum. A lack of or low-quality colostrum can disrupt the passive transfer of maternal immunity to the calf.” 

A variety of factors can affect the quality of a cow’s colostrum, says Erickson. Heifers generally have lower quality colostrum, and nutrition or lack thereof can also affect the immune status of the dam and ultimately the immune status of her neonatal calf. High maternal immunity however can cause diminished responses to the antibodies presented in systemic vaccines, he explains. 

“The efficacy of systemic and mucosal vaccines is dependent on the immunity of the cow. A well-vaccinated cow will produce higher-quality colostrum, stocked with antibodies to provide her newborn calf with the immunity it needs to fight off various respiratory diseases,” says Erickson, “A systemic vaccine – one that is injected – is not typically as effective for neonatal calves in this scenario as the antibodies passed on in the milk will interfere with the vaccine and cause a diminished response.” 

Using mucosal vaccinations

In the scenario of calves born to cows with higher immunity mucosal vaccines are a more viable option, says Erickson.  

“A mucosal vaccine is applied in the nasal cavity. It is able to bypass the maternal antibodies because effects the immune tissue directly in the surface layers of the nasal cavity,” says Erickson.  

For calves born to lower-immunity heifers or those that had to be pulled or bottle fed, systemic vaccines can be more effective than with high immunity calves due to the lack of vaccine interfering antibodies, says Erickson.  

“The main priority with high-risk calves should be to get them colostrum as soon as possible, and then we can concern ourselves with proper vaccinations,” he adds. 

Aside from very young calves with high maternal immunity, there are other scenarios in which mucosal vaccinations can be effective.  

“It is important to consider mucosal vaccines prior to high risk periods,” says Erickson. “Pre-turnout maternal cows and calves around three months of age as their maternal antibodies begin to wane around that time are also good candidates for these types of vaccinations.” 


To achieve maximum efficacy using mucosal vaccinations, Erickson recommends following established manufacturer protocols as well as certain in-field practices.  

Mucosal vaccines require the use a device known as a cannula in order to deliver the vaccine from the syringe and into the nasal cavity. Erickson recommends following the manufacturer’s protocol of changing the cannula every 10 uses for weaned calves and to use a new cannula for each calf when vaccinating neonatal aged calves.  

“Disposing of the cannula accordingly minimizes the risk of spreading harmful diseases among calves,” says Erickson. “Younger calves are especially susceptible to catching illnesses from shared devices such as cannulas and needles.” 

Erickson also stresses the importance of paying attention to the head position of the calf when administering mucosal vaccinations.  

“If possible, we want the calf’s head to be slightly elevated to maximize the amount of contact the vaccine has with the tissue and minimize the amount of dripping through the nose,”says Erickson. 

It is also important to keep in mind the timelines of different types of vaccines. While mucosal vaccines work much quicker than the systemic variety, they have a significantly lower time frame of coverage, he explains. 

“In most cases, a calf given a mucosal vaccine in the neonatal period will need a booster around branding time,” says Erickson. “Some studies also suggest neonatal mucosal vaccinations can act as a primer to systemic vaccinations administered at weaning and result in boosted responses.” 

On Dec. 11, Erickson was featured as a webinar speaker for the Beef Cattle Research Council where he described how to effectively utilize mucosal vaccines.  

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of 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..

Riverton – Producers should focus on nutrition and management long before vaccinations ever come into play, said a Lander Veterinarian on Feb. 11 at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days.

“We don’t treat problems, and we don’t vaccinate problems. We manage them. Poor management decisions, just like poor nutrition, will wipe out any benefit of a vaccine,” stated Jessica Blake from Lander Valley Animal Hospital.


Feed analysis, according to Blake, is where nutrition should start.

“This is so simple to do, but so many of us are not utilizing this tool,” she noted.

By sending hay samples to a lab, producers can determine which nutrients are abundant or deficient in the diet of their cows.

“If a producer needs help, they can call a vet or the Extension office. They will be happy to give any assistance needed for collecting those samples and getting them mailed out,” she added.

Once nutritional composition is determined for areas of a producer’s operation, management decisions can be implemented to ensure cattle are getting the maximum benefit of their feed.

Management decisions

“We can only manage what we measure,” Blake commented.

Good health records help producers track changes and health concerns in their herd.

“We need to keep records and learn to control what we can while working within our environment,” she continued.

Vaccinations, Blake commented, are the last component of a herd health program.


“Vaccination is a tool that we use along with management. We are training the immune system to recognize and contain pathogens,” she explained.

Timing, preparation and repetition are important in a good vaccine protocol.

“Get the right kind of vaccine at the right time and give it the right way,” she advised.

Ordering should be done ahead of time to allow for any out-of-stock items, and producers should plan for booster vaccines and follow up accordingly.

“Athletes don’t just develop one skill and never work on it again. They work on every skill that they need, every day. Likewise, repetition in vaccination is important for training the immune system,” she noted.


Choosing a vaccine can often be influenced by factors that are not necessarily the most beneficial, such as tradition, neighbors or environment.

“Markets are also going to become more influential on the decisions that we make,” Blake added.

Consumer concern over antibiotics and animal welfare will influence how feedlots administer medications in the future, and the effect will trickle down to cow/calf producers.

“We are also influenced by our vaccine consultant, advertising, marketing gimmicks, price and availability,” Blake continued.


Blake encouraged producers to base their vaccination programs on operational goals.

“When I am developing a vaccine protocol, I sit down with my client and have them fill out a five-page questionnaire about their herd,” she explained. “I want to know everything.”

Blake’s questionnaire asks producers about their calving rates, conception rates, range schedules, breeding schedules, breeding locations such as the barn or pasture, branding schedules and more.

“I want a feed analysis first and foremost. If a producer is not willing to do a feed analysis, there is not a whole lot that I can work off of without that information,” she commented.

Setting a program

Once all of the data is collected, Blake works with her clients to create a 365-day vaccination calendar.

“We look at the risk assessment, diseases of concern and goals before picking vaccines that are best suited to that producer’s environment, goals and needs,” she stated.

The calendar includes dates for administering vaccines, as well as notes about which vaccines to use and when to order them so producers are prepared with all of the right materials.

“There are 150 different vaccines on the market today for the routine things we vaccinate for. We can make a decision, but we can not make a wise decision in five minutes or less,” she commented.

She encouraged producers to be intentional about their vaccine programs, with a plan and protocol for who administers what, when and how.

“We should get professional help if we need it and talk to people who know more about it than we do,” Blake said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Meeteetse – Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct until the 1980s when  ferrets were found outside Meeteetse.

“In 1979, the last Black-footed ferret perished in South Dakota,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott. “In 1982, they were found in Meeteetse.”

In 1984, 120 ferrets were located in the Meeteetse area, but canine distemper killed many of them. At the same time, sylvatic plague ran rampant through the white-tailed prairie dog population that provided the ferrets’ main food source.

Talbott noted, “In the mid-1980s, ferrets were taken into captivity, and there is a huge partnership of folks who have worked to help recover the species.”

Retired Wyoming Game and Fish Department Education Specialist Dennie Hammer noted, “Black-footed ferrets are still considered one of the rarest species in all of North America, and it is a tribute to Wyoming and all of the partners over the years that we can say we still have ferrets and the habitat they need to survive.”

On July 8, researchers, wildlife specialists and others gathered at the Pitchfork Ranch outside Meeteetse to hear about the latest developments in the path toward reintroducing Black-footed ferrets.

Researchers and Wyoming Game and Fish Department personnel described a current field trial to combat sylvatic plague that is being conducted at the ranch.

Prairie dog populations

To successfully reintroduce Black-footed ferrets on the landscape, thriving populations of prairie dogs are necessary. However, prairie dogs across the West continue to be decimated by sylvatic plague.

Over the last 15 years, Tonie Rocke of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has worked to develop a vaccine to combat sylvatic plague.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Public Information Officer Renny McKay noted, “If this vaccine proves to be successful, it can be used in targeted places where we want to reintroduce Black-footed ferrets on the continent.”

Field trials

Over the last three years, Roche’s vaccine has been utilized in field trials across the West.

“Pitchfork Ranch is one of 29 sites that has hosted research on sylvatic plague vaccine,” explained McKay.

In its third season of field trials, many of those involved are optimistic about the potential success of the vaccines.

“Right here on Pitchfork, we have a colony of prairie dogs with two plots that are our study area,” explained Jesse Boulerice, nongame biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “Each plot is 40 acres.”

Boulerice continued, “One plot will receive a bait that contains the vaccine for plague, and the other receives a placebo bait.”

The study is blind, meaning that researchers on-the-ground conducting the study do not know which plot is receiving vaccine and which is receiving placebo baits.


The vaccine is delivered in a peanut butter-flavored bait that also has a biomarker to determine whether the prairie dogs have received the vaccine.

“After the animal ingests the biomarker, it marks the hair and whiskers. If we pull a whisker and look at it under ultraviolet light, it fluoresces,” Rocke said.

Prairie dogs are captured and tagged, giving each animal an individual identification. When they are captured, hair and whisker samples are taken, and the prairie dogs are combed for fleas.

“We can send the fleas to the lab to identify the species and see if the flea is carrying plague,” Boulerice said.

The animals are sedated for the process to reduce stress.


Though the study is only three years into a four-year project, Rocke says that preliminary results have shown that 90 percent of prairie dogs are eating the bait.

“We see the biomarker in the hair of almost every prairie dog we capture,” she said. “They eat it readily, and we think that they are getting used to it over time.”

Laboratory trials are also very encouraging, with 95 percent survival rates after a challenge with the oral vaccine after two treatments.

“We don’t know anything about the success rates yet,” Rocke said, “and we won’t know until we get our data in, un-blind the study and look at the data.”

Over the next year, researchers will continue to collect data, hoping for positive results at the end of the study.

“There are a couple of things that are limiting in the recovery of the Black-footed ferret – one being plague that takes over prairie dog town and eliminating the food source for ferrets,” said Mark Sattleberg of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This vaccine is a hope in the recovery of the Black-footed ferret.”

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..


Breeding cattle can experience embryonic losses and low conception rates early in the breeding season if modified live vaccinations are used prior to breeding. 

George Perry of South Dakota State University tells producers, “Don’t use a modified live vaccine around breeding season. I don’t think there is anyone out there who would disagree with that given the known negatives.”

Perry shares several studies showing how cattle receiving the vaccine can have lower conception rates, particularly during the beginning of the breeding season when producers are artificially inseminating them. 

“We think the vaccine gets into the large dominant follicle and disrupts the corpus luteum,” he explains. “We also think it can hang around for an extended period of time, affecting the smaller follicles.”

Disease challenges

Which vaccines to give breeding cattle is one of the most important decisions a producer can make. 

“The fertility level of the herd is critical,” Perry says. “One of the biggest things that can impact reproductive efficiency, and the fertility level of the herd is affected by reproductive diseases.”

Producers worry about diseases like Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), trichomoniasis, leptospirosis, vibriosis and neosporosis. 

“They worry about  fetal infection and pregnancy loss. But, IBR and BVD can also impact ovarian dysfunction and the estrus dysfunction cycle. It impacts the fetus and the ability of the cow to conceive,” he explains. “BVD is a family of viruses with reproductive symptoms that are very wide, depending upon when they are exposed to it.” 

“We worry about BVD for many reasons. It can cause early embryonic death, low conception rates, persistently infected calves, calves with birth defects and congenitally infected calves,” he adds.

IBR is actually a herpes virus that can be latent in the body for years, Perry says. 

“Studies show it can be brought back from latency with enough stress. As producers, we need to think about these things and how it impacts reproduction. IBR causes symptoms like late-term abortions and problems like respiratory, ocular and vaginitis,” he notes.

Vaccine options

Producers control these diseases by vaccinating their breeding cattle with inactivated or modified live vaccines. 

Typically, the vaccinations are combinations of IBR and BVD with vibrio and leptospirosis. By label instructions, they are typically given at least 30 days before the start of the breeding season. 

“The modified live vaccine has better cell mediated immunity, so it needs a booster less often. However, there are safety concerns with handling it,” he says. 

Killed or inactivated vaccines are safer for producers to give and work by impacting the antibody mediated immunity. It can be used in pregnant and open animals and calves without any problems, Perry relates. 

However, it needs more frequent boosters.


In a study released in 2017, heifers were given either a modified live or saline vaccination at weaning. They received a booster prior to breeding. 

Of the group vaccinated with the modified live, half received another modified live vaccination prior to breeding and the other half was vaccinated with the inactivated vaccine. The third group that received saline at weaning received a saline booster before breeding.

After breeding as two-year-olds, they were exposed to BVD and IBR. The scientists wanted to see if the vaccines would hold up and protect the fetus from being aborted, Perry explains. 

In the group of heifers that received two rounds of modified live vaccine, three of 23 aborted. In 17 percent of the calves, they were able to isolate the IBR or BVD virus.

Of the heifers that were vaccinated with the modified live at weaning but switched to a chemically altered inactivated vaccine, one out of 22 aborted, and they couldn’t isolate the IBR or BVD virus in any of them, Perry shares.

In the control group that received saline, 100 percent had either disease or both. 

“Over 70 percent aborted,” Perry explains. “That study showed us the inactive and modified vaccines performed similarly, with less than 10 percent aborting.” 

“So is there a benefit to modified vaccines for fetal protection? The idea of timing is important when we think about what could be affecting follicular growth and luteal function,” he says. 

Take home point

“I think modified live vaccinations have their place,” Perry continues. “It sets animals up and primes their immune system, but when we move to the reproduction phase, it can have adverse effects. All the studies show mounting evidence of this.”

“Preconditioning these animals is critical. They need that first exposure, so we recommend a modified live vaccine at weaning and then switching to an inactivated vaccine at breeding. That way it primes both sides of the immune system,” Perry states. 

“Then an annual booster of the inactive vaccine will provide the cattle with good immunity, if they are set up right,” he adds.

As a final word of caution, Perry tells producers they should consult with their veterinarian before changing their vaccination protocol. 

“Everyone’s circumstances are different. Some may not have the same virus load as others depending on how isolated or commingled the cattle are,” he notes.

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..

Vaccines are an important tool in keeping a herd healthy, but do they have the same impact at all times of the year? 

Wyoming’s State Veterinarian Jim Logan explains that the effectiveness of vaccines depends on the condition of which the animal is in, as well as the species it is being used to treat.

“If an animal is in good condition their immune system should work pretty well, regardless of the weather conditions. Producers should keep in mind, though, that weather conditions can have certain impacts on the stress factors of the animals,” states Logan. 


Environmental concerns related to disease transmission should be considered when using vaccines.

Some diseases are carried through vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks and other insects. 

Vector-borne diseases include bluetongue, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, vesicular stomatitis, leptospirosis, vibriosis, brucellosis and anthrax. 

“These diseases do have a higher prevalence in animals during times of extreme heat and drought”, says Logan. 

These vectors are usually located in riparian areas or other areas where there is water. Unfortunately, these are also areas where cattle and other animals will congregate. 

With a higher concentration of animals around water sources, the likelihood of livestock contracting disease is increased. Spread of disease occurs much more quickly in close quarters. 

“There could be risk of higher exposure risk just because of the concentration of the animals,” says Logan. 

On the lookout

There are a variety of measures that can be taken to increase efficacy of vaccines.

Producers should always be on the lookout for symptoms of disease in cattle, even if their cattle have been vaccinated. 

It is also not a bad idea to keep watch for signs of diseases that are not prevalent in the area, adds Logan.

Other precautionary measures that can be made to reduce risk of cattle being infected by vector borne illnesses are keeping livestock away from riparian areas and at higher elevations to reduce their interactions with vectors. 

“Location is critical in preventing vector borne diseases many times,” says Logan. 

Handling techniques

Another way to keep vaccines at their peak effectiveness is to properly handle them. 

“Regardless of a drought, vaccines should be handled by manufacturer’s directions. It’s very important to keep vaccines from freezing or getting too warm,” warns Logan. 

Also producers should make sure to keep the vaccine in a cooler in between times that they are being used to refill syringes because ultraviolet radiation and heat can denature, or deactivate, a vaccine. 

“Most vaccines are very sensitive to direct sunlight, so it’s important for people who are handling vaccines not to leave a bottle on the truck bed, hood or on a fence post,” advises Logan. 

“It is also very important for people to work with their local veterinarians to develop vaccination programs for their herds and to follow those protocols to prevent disease,” recommends Logan. 

Madeline Robinson is assistant 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..