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The bottom line on vaccinating cows

Not vaccinating herds comes with a cost — these two calculators put a number on potential losses

(This article has been edited for length. The full version can be found in the BCRC Blog section at beefresearch.ca.)

Vaccination is a proven tool for disease prevention, but in Western Canada, one in 10 producers surveyed are not vaccinating their cows for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVD).

As well, more than a quarter of producers do not vaccinate cows for other reproductive diseases.

This leaves herds vulnerable.

Why vaccinate for BVD?

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When a cow is infected with BVD in early pregnancy, offspring may be born persistently infected. These animals are generally considered to be the primary source for transmission of the virus.

BVD infection can lead to poor conception rates and both BVD and IBR can cause abortions in cattle. Blood tests show exposure to these diseases is common in unvaccinated herds. Several experimental trials found these vaccines are effective with an average decrease of 85 per cent in fetal infection, a 45 per cent decrease in abortions and a five per cent increase in pregnancy rates in BVD-vaccinated herds.

The Cost Benefit of BVD Vaccinations tool (visit the ‘Tools’ page here) allows producers to input their herd size, expected price, animal weights, cost of vaccine and labour to see the potential savings from vaccinating cattle for BVD specifically from changes in reproductive performance caused by abortions.

Why vaccinate for BRD?

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is one of the costliest health issues facing the beef industry. While a lot of research has been focused at the feedlot stage, the disease is also the most common cause of death for nursing calves older than three weeks. BRD can impact any producer, including those who retain ownership of their calves to background, feed or finish cattle.

U.S. researchers tracking the annual incidence of BRD in pre-weaned calves over a 20-year period found that the annual incidence varied from a low of three per cent to a high of 24 per cent with an overall annual average of 11 per cent. On average, the mortality rate of calves suffering from pre-weaning BRD was 13 per cent.

Once calves are affected by BRD, there are both immediate and long-lasting effects on performance. Studies have shown that calves challenged by BRD could weigh up to 36 pounds less at weaning.

Vaccinating can help producers manage the disease, enhance animal welfare and reduce the need for antibiotics whether they are backgrounding or finishing a few cattle of their own, retaining ownership of their calves for a longer period of time, or simply wanting to create a reputation for supplying quality calves. While it may seem like the main beneficiary of BRD vaccines are feedlots purchasing vaccinated calves, other segments benefit as well.

The Cost-Benefit of Feeding BRD Vaccinated Calves tool allows producers to input their own numbers of feeder cattle purchased (or retained), feeder and fed price, weight, cost of gain, days on feed and treatment cost to calculate and compare the expense of feeding calves that have not been vaccinated for BRD. The tool itemizes costs including death loss, treatment costs, and performance losses due to lower average daily gain and lower-quality grades, that arise from feeding calves that were not vaccinated.

The BRD vaccination cost benefit and BVD vaccination cost benefit calculators, along with other production tools, can be found at beefresearch.ca.

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