Tips for Cattle Vaccination Programs | 10 Things To Know

By Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Rachel Endecott, Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle SpecialistAs fall work starts to wind down, thoughts might turn to preparing for the next year of production and all the supplies that come with it. Vaccines are an important part of a herd health program, and this piece will cover some background and considerations about vaccines and beef cattle production. This overview is not meant to recommend vaccination programs, but will provide definitions of terminology and suggestions for effective vaccination.

Just what is a vaccine, anyway? One technical definition is a “suspension of attenuated or killed microorganisms or the antigenic proteins derived from them.” Let’s take that piece-by-piece: in this case, the suspension is a liquid that contains particles (microorganisms or proteins from them) that are mixed with the liquid but are not dissolved in it.

Attenuated means altered, usually in a way that makes something less severe—modified-live vaccines contain attenuated microorganisms. Killed vaccines contain killed microorganisms. Antigenic means that a substance causes an immune response—vaccines with this formulation contain a protein from the microorganism that is source of the immune response.

Successful vaccination depends on three critical factors: an effective vaccine, a functioning immune system, and administration of the vaccine before exposure to the disease. A vaccine may be ineffective if it is mishandled, if a booster is required but not given, or because of antigenic differences between the vaccine and field strains of the microorganism to which an animal is exposed.

An animal’s immune system may be unresponsive to vaccination because of age—a young calf’s immune system might not be fully functional at the time of vaccination, or antibodies from maternal colostrum still present in the calf inactivated the vaccine. Inadequate nutrition may also cause an animal’s immune system to be unresponsive to vaccination. Two other reasons for vaccine failure include that the animal was incubating the disease when vaccinated and that the duration of immunity after vaccination was inadequate.

Some tips for effective vaccination include:

  1. Read and follow label directions. If you are unsure, consult your veterinarian or call the vaccine company directly before using the product.
  2. Follow proper Beef Quality Assurance guidelines.
  3. Sterilize equipment between uses. Modified-live vaccines are sensitive to disinfectants, so do not use chemical disinfectants in syringes or needles for MLV use.
  4. Refrigerate and store vaccines as directed on the label. Be sure appropriate temperatures for the vaccine are maintained when they are away from the refrigerator.
  5. Keep vaccines out of sunlight, even when in the syringe.
  6. Mark syringes to avoid mixing or incorrect dosage.
  7. Mix only enough vaccine to be used in one hour or less.
  8. Choose correct needles for the job, and replace often.
  9. Keep records of vaccinations used.
  10. Good sanitation, management and nutritional practices are necessary to achieve the best results from vaccination programs.

Reasons for Reproductive Failure in Cattle | 10 Things to Know

Let’s face it… Ranching is a business. To operate, a business must turn some kind of a profit. In the cattle business, reproduction is one of the most important economic traits. More important than growth, production, or carcass performance. If a cow fails to have a calf on the ground every year, something is missing.

Reproductive traits are some of the least heritable in the cow herd, meaning that we cannot rely on genetics along to improve program success. Fortunately, when there is failure in a breeding program, there are management tools we can utilize to build for success. Identifying the problems and opportunity for improvement are part of correcting the problem.

Top 10 Reasons for Reproductive Failure in Cows

She cycles like a ninja (silent heat)

Sperm and oocyte cannot meet (blocked oviducts)

Failure to launch (cystic follicle that will not ovulate)

Bad behavior (cortisol from stressed cow or bad handling)

She’s not feeling well (disease, manage that health and nutrition)

Exposure to environmental toxins

She’s too hot to handle (heat stress)

She has a mineral imbalance (pay attention to clinical and sub-clinical)

She lost her calf (embryonic or fetal loss)

She’s not eating her Wheaties (nutrition)

 Reasons Reproductive Failure Cows Bulls

Top 10 Reasons for Reproductive Failure in Bulls

Cows? What cows? (vision important to seeing estrus activity)

His penis looks strange and will not work (injury)

I’ve seen volcanoes cooler than this (heat stress, sperm quality, activity)

He’s not feeling well (disease, environmental toxins)

Scrotum looks a bit small (small testis – sperm factory)

The bull likes… Bulls? ( libido – requires observation to detect)

Shooting blanks (low sperm concentration, related to small testis or nutrition)

His sperm are weird shaped or have no tails (depleted reserves, poor morphology)

He needs a walker to get to the cows (foot and leg problems)

He carries a sign “Will breed for food” (under-fed and/or minerals)

This is just a short list of the issues we face when managing cattle and is adapted from a presentation by Dr. Neal Schrick at the University of Tennessee. More information about reproductive failure and how to manage those problems can be found from the Beef Reproduction Task Force.

What other issues when managing cattle reproductive problems do you encounter? Leave a comment below or email This is part of a month-long series of 10 Things to Know about Cattle. To read other posts in the series, click the image below.

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Defining Sustainability for Ranching and Beef | 10 Things To Know

Padlock ESAP Sustainable

Sustainability is one of the hottest topics in food and agriculture today. Whether it be used for food products on maintaining a business, many folks disagree on what sustainability looks like. There are as many ways to define sustainability as there are cattle operations in the U.S. Maybe even more.

Essentially, it boils down to managing the three pillars of sustainability – economic, ecological and social – with the long-term in mind. During a panel discussion at this year’s Young Ag Leadership Conference in Bozeman, three individuals from different sectors of agriculture, each defined sustainability in their own terms. While each definition was different, each was based on those three pillars mentioned above. None of them were wrong in their definition. Sustainability truly looks different for each operation.

In an effort to arrive at finding a common definition for sustainability for the beef industry, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef has met this week in Sao Paulo, Brazil to identify priorities of sustainability in a beef system that is socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable.

  • Planet (relevant principles: Natural Resources, Efficiency and Innovation, People and the Community);
  • People (relevant principles: People and the Community and Food);
  • Animals (relevant principle: Animal Health and Welfare, Efficiency and Innovation);
  • Progress (relevant principles: Natural Resources, People and the Community, Animal Health and Welfare, Food, Efficiency and Innovation)

Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef The GRSB hopes their work to define sustainability can provide clarity on a complex issues that affects beef producers, retailers and consumers around the globe. It isn’t the intention of GRSB to create a standard or mandate for sustainable beef practices, but rather to provide a baseline when working with regional roundtables to identify opportunities for improvements and efficiencies on a local level.

What are the indicators of ranch sustainability in an area where cattle are grazing rangelands? The Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable lists 64 indicators of sustainability, We will cover 10 of them here. Do any of these apply to your operation? Maybe you can identify opportunities for improvement in areas of sustainability?

  1. Change in soil area erosion and ground cover
  2. Quality and flow of ground and surface water
  3. Condition of riparian and wetland areas
  4. Presence and availability of wildlife habitat
  5. Number of livestock on land relative to carrying capacity
  6. Return on investment for forage and livestock enterprises
  7. Suitability of animal and forage species for environment
  8. Social status and employment opportunities for workers
  9. Contributions and involvement with surrounding communities
  10. Longevity and effort to manage and maintain systems

Many farms and ranches across the country exhibit qualities of sustainability. The longevity of multi-generation operations that have been around for a century or more should be evidence of that. As long as it involves the three core principles mentioned above, sustainability looks different on each operation, but that difference shouldn’t mean one is good and the other is bad. They’re different, and that diversity should be celebrated.

The Environmental Stewardship Award Program recognizes ranches each year who are doing good work in the areas of sustainability. Be sure to read more about their stories of sustainability. Also, be sure to visit to learn more from the cooperative effort by the Society for Range Management, University of Wyoming, and several other organizations. To read more about indicators of successful ranching, check out the proceedings from the Range Beef Cow Symposium XIX.

What questions do you have about sustainability for beef or ranching? Leave a comment below or email This is part of a month-long series of 10 Things to Know about Cattle. To read other posts in the series, click the image below.

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Quality Beef from Quality Cattle Care | 10 Things To Know

Ed & David Fryer BQA at Castle Mountain RanchQuality beef comes from cattle who are well cared for and raised with a strong code of ethics and values. Ranchers providing that care are passionate and dedicated in what they do. Despite some reports from activists groups who use online forums to promote mistreatment of animals and solicit fund raising for their programs, cattle ranchers across the country devote significant time and resources to ensuring their livestock are cared for properly.

Beginning in the 1970s, cattle producers began to develop programs to evaluate, measure and ensure quality care for livestock and a safe beef supply. Today, that program has developed into the Beef Quality Assurance Program with guiding principles to establish standards for animal care.

  • WE BELIEVE production practices affect consumer acceptance of beef.
  • WE BELIEVE the BQA Program has and must continue to empower beef producers to improve the safety and wholesomeness of beef.
  • WE BELIEVE these fundamental principles are the fabricoftheBQA Program.
    1. Empowering people…because producers can make a difference.
    2. Taking responsibility…because it’s our job, not someone else’s.
    3. Working together…because product safety and wholesomeness is everyone’s business.
Beef Quality Assurance ProgramsCattle ranchers take pride in their responsibility to raising cattle, taking care of their land, and being good stewards of their resources. To suggest ranchers lack the proper values in raising safe, quality food, would be misleading. Thousands of cattle ranchers across the country participate in the Beef Quality Assurance programs which outline a Code of Cattle Care to ensure proper care and handling of livestock:
  1. Provide necessary food, water and care to protect the health and well-being of animals.
  2. Provide disease prevention practices to protect herd health, including access to veterinary care.
  3. Provide facilities that allow safe, humane, and efficient movement and/or restraint of cattle.
  4. Use appropriate methods to humanely euthanize terminally sick or injured livestock and dispose of them properly.
  5. Provide personnel with training/experience to properly handle and care for cattle.
  6. Make timely observations of cattle to ensure basic needs are being met.
  7. Minimize stress when transporting cattle.
  8. Keep updated on advancements and changes in the industry to make decisions based upon sound production practices and consideration for animal well-being.
  9. Persons who willfully mistreat animals will not be tolerated.

Want to hear from some of these ranchers? Take time to view interviews with Montana ranchers as they discuss their dedication to the livestock and the lifestyle by visiting our YouTube channel.

The Beef Quality Assurance Program outlines the minimum expectations of ranchers for cattle care and handling. To learn more about the program, visit or contact your state’s coordinator. Learn more about Montana’s BQA program by visiting their Facebook page or by contacting Bill Pelton at (406) 671-5100 or by email at

What questions do you have about Beef Quality Assurance? Leave a comment below or email This is part of a month-long series of 10 Things to Know about Cattle. To read other posts in the series, click the image below.

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Introduction to Cattle Digestion | 10 Things To Know

Image via

Image via

Forages are the number one source of nutrition for cattle. Cattle are able to utilize a great number of forages, plants, and crop by-products as feed that humans cannot digest. They’re great recyclers and by utilizing cattle we’re able to produce food on millions of acres that otherwise wouldn’t be suitable for growing crops. Cattle are ruminants, meaning they digest feeds through microbial processes, compared to digestion through enzymes in monogastrics like horses, pigs and humans. Many scientists dedicate entire careers to the understanding of ruminant nutrition and are continually learning more about helping cattle to be more efficient and optimal producers through their diets.

Cattle have the capacity to consume 2-3% of their body weight in dry forages each day. That’s 24-36 pounds for a 1,200 lb animal. Less mature, higher quality forages will be digested more quickly and increase capacity for consumption. Lower quality feeds, high in lignin require more time for digestion and slow intake.

  1. Cattle have 1 stomach with four compartments – rumen (major digestion site), reticulum (honeycomb structure), omasum (has many folds, major site of water absorption), abomasum (true stomach, acid producing).
  2. The rumen is similar to a fermentation vat that can contain up to 50 gallons of material in adult cattle. The other stomach compartments regulate particle size. Once small enough, particles are allowed to pass from the rumen, to the other stomach compartments for continued digestion and absorption.
  3. Cattle spend about 8 hours each day “chewing the cud. They are regurgitating food boluses from the rumen and chewing up fibrous materials making them smaller for quicker digestion. This action stimulates saliva production, up to 45 gallons per day, that helps to maintain proper pH levels for rumen function.
  4. Most digestion in cattle occurs through bacteria and protozoa present in the rumen that digest feedstuffs to produce nutrients that the animal utilizes. The lining of the rumen is filled with finger-like projections called papillae that increase absorption capacity of the products of microbial digestion.
  5. Cattle are able to utilize a great number of feed sources because of the rumen microbes. Two basic groups of rumen bacteria exist to digest either structural (cellulose or hemicellulose from forages) or nonstructural (starch from grains) carbohydrates to obtain energy. Other feedstuffs broken down in the rumen include sugar, organic acids, protein or fat.
  6. Volatile Fatty Acids are the major products of rumen digestion and supply 80% of the animal’s energy requirements. The primary VFAs produced are acetic acid (60%), propionic acid (up to 20% on a high grain diet), and butyric acid (12-18%). Other products include heat, gases, amino acids and B-complex vitamins.
  7. The digestion of rumen microbes supply 60% of the animal’s protein requirement. To maintain microbial growth and function in the rumen, a minimum of only 7% crude protein from dietary intake is required. Excess protein in the diet is an inefficiency in the cattle diet and is broken down and excreted as ammonia through the urine.
  8. Fistulated cow with nutrition researcher examining rumen contents. Image via

    Fistulated cow with nutrition researcher examining rumen contents. Image via

    The balance of microbe populations in a proper diet keeps rumen pH in a range of 5.8 to 6.4. An abrupt change in major components of cattle diets (i.e. forages to grains), can result in excess acid production, resulting in a condition known as acidosis.  A transition period allows adjustment of rumen microbe populations and prevents this condition.

  9. Much of the information we learn about cattle digestion is learned through research using a fistula. This is a hole placed in the side of a cow where a rubber seal and plug are surgically placed. The plug can be removed and researchers can observe and sample rumen activity and contents. The fistula doesn’t harm or injure the cow and they are rarely used outside of research efforts.
What questions do you have about cattle digestion and the feeds they eat? Leave a comment below or email This is part of a month-long series of 10 Things to Know about Cattle. To read other posts in the series, click the image below.
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