Take a 3-pronged approach to building calf immunity

Take a 3-pronged approach to building calf immunity

It is a critical time to strengthen calves’ immunity for the challenging winter season ahead.

A key concern is the prevention of bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

However, even with a BRD battle plan, no vaccine or management practice can prevent infection 100% of the time. Veterinarians say producers can fight back by taking a holistic, three-pronged approach that includes building immunity, mitigating risk and controlling infections.

Early in life, calves rely on colostrum from their mothers to develop immunity. Fall is the time to introduce vaccine support.







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Antibiotics have been labeled for the treatment of bovine respiratory diseases for 70 years, but the labels for control have been around for 20 years and there is a difference between treatment and control.


Midwest Messenger photo by Amy Hadachek


“As passive immunity from colostrum declines, vaccines are needed to stimulate the calf’s immune system to start producing its own antibodies against specific disease-causing agents,” Dr. Joe Gillespie of Boehringer Ingelheim said in the article. , “BRD Battle Plan: Providing Powerful Protection on All Fronts.”

He recommends administering an MLV (modified live virus) vaccine that has been shown to stimulate immunity in calves even in the presence of antibodies from colostrum. If possible, he said choose a vaccine that stimulates what is known as local and systemic immunity.

One concept that is gaining popularity is the use of metrics to reduce antibiotic use from entire groups of cattle to individual high-risk calves. Limiting the use of antibiotics has the potential to reduce costs, along with other benefits of an antimicrobial, which is a drug that kills microorganisms, including bacteria.

Antibiotics have been labeled for treatment for 70 years, but the labels for BRD control have been around for 20 years, and there is a difference between treatment and control.

BRD treatment could involve administering an antimicrobial to an animal showing signs of disease. Control, on the other hand, could be giving an entire group antibiotics when some of the animals show signs of illness.

Prevention is its own separate group. Metaphylaxis is the term for treating a group of animals when none show signs of the disease. They may have been in close contact with other infected animals.

Even when calves have been vaccinated, any disease, crossbreeding, or adverse weather can take a toll on their young, developing respiratory systems.







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Veterinarians say producers can combat respiratory illnesses by taking a holistic, three-pronged approach that includes building immunity, mitigating risk and controlling infection.


Midwest Messenger photo by Amy Hadachek


“The group may be mixing, traveling from different groups, so they are possibly light. When we do metaphylaxis, we use antibiotics for every animal in the group,” said Dr. Brian Lubbers, an associate professor of food animal therapy at Kansas State University and a board-certified clinical pharmacologist.

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To reduce stress and illness, Gillespie provides these specific recommendations:

g Minimize mixing of animals from different sources. If unavoidable, use a preconditioning program.

g Consider metaphylaxis, or group antibiotic treatment, for at-risk animals or any livestock with unknown health history.

g Work with a veterinarian to implement a deworming protocol for parasite protection.

g Test incoming calves for Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV) and remove persistently infected calves from the herd.

g Protect livestock from inclement weather.

g Avoid overcrowding to minimize transmission of respiratory pathogens.

g Practice low-stress management to ensure the transfer process runs smoothly for both producers and livestock. Low-stress management techniques include presenting a calm disposition, avoiding loud noises, reducing the use of prods, and eliminating visual distractions.

g Ensure cows are well fed a well-balanced, highly nutritious diet. This is necessary for healthy immune function and proper growth.

If an animal develops BRD, immediate treatment is vital, Gillespie said. It recommends a fast-acting, long-acting antibiotic known to treat all major BRD-causing pathogens, including Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni, and Mycoplasma bovis.

Early diagnosis and a consistent treatment plan are important to prevent disease.

“Veterinary diagnostic tests may also include a nasal swab, blood test, chest ultrasound, or even a necropsy, which can help identify the specific pathogen causing BRD,” Gillespie said.

The simple administration of the vaccines does not guarantee a good immunological stimulation.

“I encourage producers to work with their veterinarian to design the optimal vaccination program for their ranch. In addition, the timing and method of vaccine administration is critical to obtaining the best response,” said Brad White, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University.

White recommends following beef quality assurance (BQA) guidelines for the handling and administration of vaccines.

Reporter Amy Hadachek is a two-time Emmy Award-winning meteorologist and storm chaser who earned her broadcast weather seals of approval from the NWA and AMS. She and her husband live on a diversified farm in Kansas. get to her in amy.hadachek@midwestmessenger.com.

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