Assess Cattle Health Management at Turnout Time

Now is the time to be protecting calves through vaccinations. ( North Dakota State University Extension )

Spring turnout to the pasture is a good time for producers to review their cow-calf health management plans, according to North Dakota State University Extension livestock experts.

They note that prolonged feeding due to slow grass growth, and extreme cold and wet conditions this spring have created a variety of challenges for young livestock, particularly for those in dry lots or areas with high concentrations of livestock.

“The passive transfer of immunity from the dam is dependent on the availability of high-quality colostrum containing adequate levels of antibodies, as well as protein, energy, vitamins and minerals,” says Janna Kincheloe, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Hettinger Research Extension Center. “Environmental stress from prolonged winter weather conditions, combined with low-quality feedstuffs, may have reduced the quality of colostrum available to newborn calves.”

Wet and cold conditions early this spring created a prime environment for bacteria and other pathogens that can cause scours and other issues.

“In addition to managing current health problems, producers need to start thinking forward to health insurance programs for nursing calves on pasture,” says Gerald Stokka, Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “For spring-calving herds, branding or turnout time is a good opportunity to protect the calf through the summer grazing period through appropriate management. One of the important components of the health insurance plan is vaccinations.”

Viral agents that are common causes of respiratory or reproductive issues include infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), parainfluenza type 3 (PI3), bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV). Modified live virus and killed (inactivated) products are available for these diseases. Other risks may include clostridial diseases, pinkeye and footrot.

The specialists encourage producers to work with their veterinarian to evaluate which vaccines to use based on three principles:

  • Are vaccines necessary? Is the risk of the disease significant?
  • Are vaccines effective?
  • Are vaccines safe to use?

In suckling calves, maternal immunity (acquired through colostrum) may inhibit a complete immune response (antibody) to modified live virus vaccines. However, Stokka says research at NDSU’s Central Grasslands Research Extension Center showed that an intranasally administered vaccine for IBR, PI3 and BRSV has been effective in spring-born (2- to 3-month-old) calves. The greatest response was in calves that received a booster dose approximately 150 days after receiving an intranasally administered modified live vaccine.

In herds that have biosecurity procedures in place and practice annual cow herd vaccination for BVDV, vaccination for calves at turnout may not be necessary. In this scenario, producers may consider using a modified live virus intranasal vaccine containing IBR, PI3 and BRSV at preweaning time. Booster doses are not administered commonly but can be used four to six weeks following the initial dose if necessary.

In addition, the specialists recommend a seven- or eight-way clostridial vaccine. Assessing the risk of clostridial disease is difficult, but using an inexpensive, effective insurance policy against this family of diseases may be a wise decision, they say.

Pinkeye vaccines are available in the commercial market, and the opportunity to create a herd-specific autogenous vaccine is available. However, evidence of their efficacy is lacking. Fly control, rotational grazing, early treatment and separating infected animals from the rest of the herd help reduce the spread of pinkeye.

The specialists note that many products on the market, such as immune stimulants or nutritional supplements (probiotics and prebiotics), claim to boost the immune system or promote gut health. However, few of these products have been evaluated in a research setting, and producers should consult with their veterinarian about using the products.

Good stewardship also applies to calf-processing procedures and reducing stress on the animals, the specialists say. They recommend producers:

  • Make sure vaccine delivery instruments are in good repair, don’t leak and deliver the right amount
  • Provide ways to keep vaccines at the proper temperature, such as vaccine coolers
  • Make sure they have enough needles to allow for frequent changes, and if using intranasal vaccines, have a supply of intranasal cannulas
  • Walk through the handling facilities before working cattle, and repair breaks, brace weak spots and make changes if cattle flow is less than expected
  • Change handling procedures if hollering, screaming, hand waving and running to move cattle and people are part of their normal working procedures

“With challenges experienced by newborn livestock this winter and spring, now is a good time to evaluate current vaccination and herd health management protocols and adjust if necessary,” Kincheloe says. “Developing strategies to improve calf health during the grazing season is key in ensuring desired performance and preparing the calf’s immune system for weaning.”

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