On-Ranch Vaccinations Establish Lifetime Cattle Health

Posted August 11, 2017

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.

The Doctor Says …

“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 beef Extension 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.” (Fike, G.D., J.C. Simroth, D.U. Thomson, E.F. Schwandt, R. Spare, and A.J. Tarpoff.)

“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 prevention 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.

“Bovine respiratory disease 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 IBR, BRSV, BVD and PI-3 – 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.”

“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, Cornwell Ranch, of Glasgow, Montana, 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 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 that don't follow a vaccination regime or that 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.”

Tarpoff said the optimal time to vaccinate is before a disease challenge. Since weaning is a stressor, cattlemen should vaccinate three to four weeks before that event, then boost them when they are weaned.

Cornwell emphasized the importance of a lifetime vaccination protocol and weaning calves 45 to 60 days before shipping. “A lot of feed yards won’t receive bawling calves,” said Cornwell. “By weaning calves on the ranch, you have better control of your weighing conditions and timing of shipping, adding more value to your product.”

Veterinarians said the earliest age their clients should wean calves is 90 to 120 days, and they should administer the last preventative vaccination seven to 21 days before shipping.

“It is important to use the vaccines as they are intended. Administer them properly and at the correct time in the calf’s life,” said Cornwell. Calves should receive their first immunizations at branding time – between two and four months of age – when the maternal antibodies from colostrum run out and they start to develop their own immune system.

Calves are usually weaned at six to eight months of age, and it’s recommended to give preconditioning – or pre-weaning – shots three to four weeks before separating them from their dams.

“On-ranch vaccinations work every day for the rancher, adding value on shipping day,” he said. “Buyers and feeders recognize the value of a good health protocol, knowing the cattle will perform better in the lot. A calf’s health is progressive. Each step adds value until it reaches the consumer’s plate.”

Cornwell said it is essential that cattlemen know what vaccines they are giving and understand why each one is important. He recommended producers visit with their veterinarian or pharmaceutical representative to truly understand the purpose and functionality of the immunization.

He also emphasized proper handling of vaccination and implementing low-stress cattle handling techniques.

According to CattleFax data, the U.S. is the No. 1 beef producer in the world, producing 11.5 million tons of beef in 2016. The cow-calf operation is the first stage of the beef supply chain, therefore it is critical to lay a solid health foundation.

“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 less 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.


Recommended Vaccination Protocols

Cow-calf producers should build a good working relationship with their veterinarian and follow his or her recommendations. Geographic and environmental concerns, nutritional requirements and special health needs all factor into an operation’s tailored health protocol. Pharmaceutical companies offer product that combines several vaccines into one dose, reducing the number of injection sites.

Most veterinarians – 80 percent surveyed in the study – recommended modified-live-virus vaccinations at branding time to aid in disease prevention. That recommendation for MLV vaccines increased to 90 and 93 percent if calves were being vaccinated for the first time at preconditioning and weaning, respectively.

Vaccination Description

Clostridial – Multivalent Clostridium (blackleg, enterotoxemia, malignant edema, black disease, sordellii, tetanus)

M. haemolytica – Mannheimia haemolytica (bacterial pneumonia)

Pasteurella – Pasteurella multocida (bacterial pneumonia)

Sommus – Histophilus somni (pneumonia, arthritis, TEME)

IBR – Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis, Bovine Herpesvirus 1 (abortion, respiratory disease, conjunctivitis)

BRSV – Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (respiratory disease)

PI-3 – Parainfluenza-3 Virus (respiratory disease)

BVD Type 1 & 2 – Bovine Viral Diarrhea (abortion, respiratory disease, diarrhea)

Bang’s – Brucellosis or Bang’s disease (abortion)

Vibrio/Lepto – Vibriosis/Leptospirosis (abortion)

Branding (2 to 4 months of age)

Clostridial – Viral Respiratory (IBR, BVD Types 1 & 2, BRSV, PI-3), Bacterial Respiratory (pasteurella, m. haemolytica, h. somni))

Preconditioning (3 to 4 weeks before weaning)

Clostridial – Viral Respiratory (IBR, BVD Types 1 & 2, BRSV, PI-3), Bacterial Respiratory (pasteurella, m. haemolytica, h. somni))

Weaning (6 to 8 months of age)

Clostridial – Viral Respiratory (IBR, BVD Types 1 & 2, BRSV, PI-3), Bacterial Respiratory (pasteurella, m. haemolytica, h. somni))

Brucellosis and Vibriosis/Leptospirosis for heifers


For more information, contact:
Tracey Koester, American Red Angus Magazine editorial coordinator
940-387-3502 •


Red Angus Feeder Calf

Bovine Respiratory Disease costs the beef industry millions of dollars each year. Ranchers can aid in preventing illness by vaccinating and reducing stress.

Red Angus Vaccination

Disease prevention through vaccination is the foundation of a healthy herd. Calves should receive their first immunizations between two and four months of agewhen they start to develop their own immune system.

Red Angus Weaning

The cow-calf operation is the first stage of the beef supply chain, therefore it is critical to lay a solid health foundation through management and vaccination practices.