fbpx Planning your winter calf pneumonia vaccination programme

Planning your winter calf pneumonia vaccination programme

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) or calf pneumonia, is caused by several factors including infection with viruses and bacteria. Prevention is key, as treatment incurs significant costs in terms of medicines, labour and production – understand more about the importance of vaccines with Zoetis.

Preparing for Winter Housing – planning your winter calf pneumonia vaccination programme

BRD vaccines work by exposing the animal’s immune system to the particular virus, bacteria or parasite in a safe way. This can have two functions in terms of BRD prevention:

  1. Enhanced resistance to disease: The immune system of a vaccinated animal is primed to be able to neutralise the pathogen it has been vaccinated against more quickly. If the vaccinated animal comes into contact with any of the pathogens it has been vaccinated against in later life it is less likely to get sick.
  2. Reducing viral and bacterial exposure: Sick animals produce large quantities of viruses and bacteria, which can infect neighbouring animals. Vaccination reduces both the number of sick animals, and the amount of viral or bacterial shedding by infected animals, reducing levels in the air and the risk of neighbouring animals becoming infected.

Key considerations for youngstock vaccine selection

There are a number of vaccines available that protect against BRD. It is important that you select the right vaccine based on the key priorities for your farm. Some key considerations are:

  • Pathogens – Choose a vaccine that protects against the viruses/bacteria present on your farm for a sufficient period of time to cover the key risk period
  • Speed of cover – Vaccines do not provide immediate protection, they need time (which varies between vaccines) to stimulate the animal’s immune system. BRD vaccines requiring two doses may not provide protection until 5–6 weeks after starting the vaccine course. Single-dose intranasal vaccines provide faster protection and should be considered where speed of cover is important
  • Age of animal – Ensuring calves receive adequate colostrum is a vital part of good calf management, but the antibodies absorbed from the colostrum can reduce the effectiveness of some BRD vaccines in young calves. Use of intranasal vaccines can help overcome this.

Practical considerations

  • Vaccinate ALL youngstock in the same airspace – Vaccination against BRD is a GROUP strategy. Maximum benefit is gained from vaccinating all animals within an airspace
  • Avoid stress – Animals need to ‘respond to’ the vaccine and stress can reduce their ability to do this, preventing the vaccine from working effectively. Where possible, avoid vaccinating at the same time as stressful procedures such as dehorning, castrating and weaning
  • Vaccine storage and handling – Vaccines should be stored in the fridge until needed. Many of the vaccines come as a freeze-dried pellet with a diluent; these should be administered as soon as possible after mixing.

Vaccine storage

Once an appropriate vaccine has been selected, remember to store it correctly until needed. Most vaccines need to be stored in the fridge, at +2oC to +8oC until needed. Live vaccines are particularly sensitive to elevated temperatures, while inactivated vaccines are typically more sensitive to freezing.

A study involving 19 farms in which the temperature inside the fridges used to store vaccines was monitored every 30 minutes between January and August found that ALL the fridges were outside the required temperature range on at least one occasion. The minimum fridge temperature recorded was -12oC.

Probably unsurprisingly, the fridge temperatures tended to exceed 8oC from May through to August, suggesting that the external temperature was affecting the ability of many farm fridges to maintain a low enough temperature. If you are investing in vaccines you want them to work, so before you purchase your vaccine make sure that your fridge is in good working order.

Handling vaccines on-farm

Good practice in terms of handling of vaccines on-farm is critical in ensuring we achieve maximum benefit from any vaccination programme. Key points include:

  • Maintain the cold chain – from purchase to administration. Most vaccines need to be stored in the fridge so it’s important your fridge is up to the job, but also that you get the vaccine into your fridge as soon as possible after purchase. That means stopping off at the mart for breakfast whilst the vaccine you just purchased sits cooking in the Landover is best avoided!
  • Use the vaccine exactly according to the product insert (you’ll find this inside the vaccine box) – check the dose, route, expiry and storage requirements
  • Where possible avoid concurrent treatments or unlicensed vaccinations, but this should be discussed with your vet since these decisions will be based around a risk-benefit assessment for your individual farm
  • Ensure automatic injection equipment is calibrated correctly
  • Clean syringes and needles should be used – this goes for all medicines but is particularly important when administering vaccines. Chemically sterilised syringes should not be used with live vaccines
  • Live vaccines should be administered to the animal as soon as mixed – live vaccines usually come as two vials, one vial containing a freeze-dried pellet or plug containing the live antigen, and a vial containing liquid for mixing – this may or may not contain active components. The vaccine should be given immediately after mixing to avoid deterioration of the live antigen(s)
  • Sick animals should not be vaccinated – many vaccine programmes are given on a herd/group level so if you are unsure whether or not to vaccinate certain animals ask your vet. Some vaccines, for example against IBR, are licensed to be used in the face of a disease outbreak; again this will be under veterinary direction, so decisions on whether or not certain animals should be vaccinated should be discussed
  • Mark animals once vaccinated so none are missed or vaccinated twice!
  • Discard partly used vials of vaccine at the end of the day – this applies to all vaccines, including inactivated and ready-to-use vaccines because of the risk of introducing contamination into the vaccine bottles
  • Record animal ID, the date and vaccine used in your medicine book.

Vaccination plays a key role in protecting the health of your livestock. Vaccines are an investment in terms of cost and labour, so get the most from them by planning ahead, using the right vaccination programme for your herd, and storing and using them correctly.


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