Improve Cattle Reproductive Health with Pre-breeding Vaccinations

Most major reproductive diseases are preventable with strong management and vaccination protocols. ( John Maday )

During a time when producers are watching every dollar closely, one factor that should not be overlooked is reproductive health. In this prolonged period of historically low milk prices, getting cows bred on time is becoming increasingly important. Every calf is valuable, so diseases affecting reproduction could be costly.

According to Dr. Curt Vlietstra, professional services veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim, most major reproductive diseases are preventable with strong management and vaccination protocols. "Implementing a sound pre-breeding vaccination program can enhance the cow's ability to become pregnant on time and carry a healthy calf to term," he said.

It's recommended to incorporate vaccinations for the following diseases prior to breeding:

  • Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) - The most commonly diagnosed viral cause of abortions in cattle.
  • Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) - Known to cause early embryonic death, abortion and persistently infected (PI) calves.
  • Leptospirosis - Bacterial infection linked to infertility, abortions, weak calves and reduced milk production.
  • Bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) - Respiratory disease that can cause serious illness and even death among calves.
  • Parainfluenza 3 (PI3) - Respiratory disease associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) that may result in secondary respiratory infections such as bacterial pneumonia.
  • Clostridia - Successful treatment of clostridial bacteria is rare, but prevention through vaccination is effective.

While BRSV, PI3 and clostridial infections are not considered reproductive diseases, their prevention can increase the chance of achieving a successful reproduction program.

Up to 50 percent of pregnancy losses in dairy cattle are associated with diseases such as IBR, BVDV and leptospirosis. Visible symptoms are not always obvious, yet these diseases remain a large threat to the health of the herd. "Vaccination is one of the main lines of defense," said Dr. Vlietstra.

Dr. Vlietstra recommends using a modified-live virus (MLV) vaccine, giving at least two doses to heifers prior to breeding and a subsequent annual booster to cows. "If possible, these vaccines should be given 30 to 60 days before breeding," he added.

A convenient way to incorporate pre-breeding vaccination into a dairy operation is through consolidation with an existing synchronization program. When choosing between a modified-live or killed virus vaccine, work with your veterinarian who understands your operation and current vaccination program. "MLV vaccines are beneficial to use during pre-breeding because they provide a long-lasting, enhanced immune response," said Dr. Vlietstra. "Regardless of the vaccine you choose, it's imperative to handle the vaccine properly and follow the label instructions."

"No vaccine is ever going to be 100 percent effective and nothing can replace good management practices," emphasized Dr. Vlietstra. "Make sure you're keeping healthy animals around, treating and performing diagnostics on sick animals, maintaining accurate vaccination records and staying up to date on current challenges facing the herd."

Reproductive efficiency plays a key role in the profitability of a dairy operation. Incorporating pre-breeding vaccination means seizing an opportunity to improve the health of cows and their future calves.