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.

Equine Owners Encouraged to Consult with Vets on West Nile Virus Vaccination

Montana Department of Livestock DOLMontana’s animal health officials are encouraging equine owners to consult with their veterinarians about vaccination for West Nile virus after a spike in the number of cases last year. “We had 32 cases last year, the most since 2007, and the third highest total in the nation,” said assistant state veterinarian Dr. Tahnee Szymanski. “That’s concerning because the disease is highly preventable.” Based on MDOL data, no equines that were current on vaccinations have ever contracted the disease in Montana. In contrast, one-third of the non-vaccinated equines that contracted the disease either died or had to be euthanized (161 of 492 since 2002).

The best time to vaccinate is before mosquito activity begins, as the vaccine takes a few weeks to offer full protection. Horse owners should consult with their veterinarians to develop a vaccination plan specific to their animal and situation.

Dr. Greg Johnson, professor of veterinary entomology at Montana State University’s Department of Animal & Range Sciences, says vaccination – which is recommended as a core vaccine by the American Association of Equine Practitioners – is prudent given WNV’s unpredictability. “It’s kind of like the flu season,” Johnson said. “We can look at the existing data and forecasts and make some guesses, but we can’t really predict what West Nile is going to do or how bad it’s going to be.” However, with snowpack running at 150 percent of normal throughout much of the state, environmental conditions could be right for WNV activity later this year. “With all of that snowpack, it looks like we’ll have lots of water, and that can mean more mosquitos,” he said. A mosquito-borne disease, WNV was first found on the east coast of the U.S. in 1999. Since then, the disease has spread westward, arriving in Montana in 2002. The disease knows no climactic or geographic boundaries in Montana, and has been found statewide. Stressing the importance of vaccination, Szymanski said, is that there is no treatment for horses that contract the disease.

WNV is a reportable disease in Montana. Any confirmed or suspected case should be immediately reported to the Montana state veterinarian’s office at 406/444-2043.

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