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Vaccinating young livestock against disease is affordable, practical

May 25, 2021

The price of a single calf, lamb or kid lost to a preventable disease could pay for the vaccination program for a producer’s entire herd or flock.

By: Will Hehemann, UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

Whether raising sheep or cattle, livestock producers should always plan on vaccinating their young animals, Dr. David Fernandez, Extension livestock specialist and interim dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. The price of a single calf, lamb or kid lost to a preventable disease would pay for the vaccination program for a producer’s entire herd or flock in most cases.

“Vaccines only cost about $15 per calf and $0.50 to $1 per lamb or kid,” he said. “They protect your flock or herd against diseases that can often prove to be fatal. Even if a disease is not fatal, a producer could lose several pounds of growth for each sick animal.”

With live calf prices hovering around $1.45 per pound, as little as 10 pounds lost to disease would pay for the cost of the vaccines, he said. Kids and lambs are worth about $2 per pound, which more than pays for the cost of vaccination.

Producers should plan on vaccinating their livestock in late May or June, Dr. Fernandez said.

“Most livestock in Arkansas are bred to give birth in the spring,” he said. “Initially, they receive immunity to diseases directly from their mothers’ milk. By the time they are two to four months old, however, that immunity is gone, and young livestock must begin to establish their own immunity to diseases.”

Before they are weaned, calves should be vaccinated for IBR-BVD-PI3 infections, leptospirosis and blackleg disease – using either a 7-way or 8-way vaccine. Most producers also vaccinate their heifers for brucellosis between four and 12 months of age.

“Producers can also choose to get their calves vaccinated for respiratory diseases such as bovine respiratory syncytial virus, pasteurella and Haemophilus somnus, as well as pink eye, anthrax and anaplasmosis,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Vaccination for these diseases is optional. Producers should work with their veterinarian to determine the right vaccination program for their calves.”

Lambs and kids should be vaccinated for clostridium CD-T. This vaccine will protect the flock against the two most common forms of overeating disease and tetanus. Producers should schedule this vaccine for about four weeks before the young animals start eating solid feeds, especially grain.

Producers can also vaccinate lambs and kids for caseous lymphadenitis, also referred to as “CL” or “cheesy gland” disease. Many producers prefer not to vaccinate for this disease if it is not already present in their flock or herd.

“There is a combined vaccine called CD-T CL for use in lambs, but it should not be used to vaccinate kids,” Dr. Fernandez said. “The combined vaccine causes a severe reaction in goats and should never be used on them. Instead, when treating goats, producers can purchase the CL vaccine separately.”

Lambs and kids can also be vaccinated for pasteurella if the infection is present in the herd, he said.

Dr. Fernandez said there are two types of vaccines: killed and modified live vaccines. Killed vaccines are made from dead disease-causing organisms or their parts. Modified live vaccines are made from weakened or altered microbes that cannot cause disease, but make an animal’s immune system respond just as if there were a real infection.

“One of the primary reasons vaccines fail to work is that producers forget they are using a live product,” he said. “Modified live vaccines must be kept cool and out of direct sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun kills bacteria so the vaccine is damaged.”

When in doubt, producers should always remember to work with a veterinarian to develop vaccination plans to treat specific problems in their flock of herd, Dr. Fernandez said.