Cattle Healthline: A Veterinary Approach

April 30, 2010 09:14 AM

Dan Goehl
Q. I have a black Angus heifer that is sick. She will not get up as I approach her; she just lays there. I literally have to pick her up to get her to stand. I noticed that when she stands, she rocks or sways as she takes some breaths. I have been giving her penicillin and treating her as if she has pneumonia. Last night, I noticed some cold buildup in her eyes and drainage from her nose. Any suggestions?

A. Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is the most economically important disease in the beef industry. To call it a disease is a bit of a misnomer, as it is actually a syndrome made up of several pathogens.

In a four-year study, Iowa State University researchers tracked 6,000 cattle in 10 feedlots. BRD was present in 8.2% of all cattle and lung lesions were found in 62% of a 1,665-carcass subsample. Cattle treated for BRD gained on average 0.81 lb. per day less than nontreated cattle in the four- to six-week starting period and 0.15 lb. per day less during full feeding. At slaughter, treated cattle had lighter carcass weights, smaller ribeye areas and less marbling. Carcass value was $23.23 per head lower for calves treated once, $30.15 lower for calves treated twice and $54.01 lower for calves treated three or more times.

Vaccination for the known pathogens of BRD will help production losses. Usually vaccine is given to help prevent bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and parainfluenza (PI3). These come in a combination shot and I prefer to give a modified live vaccine. Pasteurella and mannheimia are also commonly administered to young calves.

Q. We raise cattle in central Missouri. What vaccinations should we give our cows and calves? And when should we do so?

A. Your veterinarian is the best person to help you determine a vaccination regimen and time for your operation. Personally, I use modified live vaccines. For cows, my preferred program would be a modified live vaccine (with IBR, BVD 1, BVD 2, PI3 and BRSV) two to four weeks prior to bull turnout.

If you use AI synchronization, there is a 33-day protocol that allows for vaccine at CIDR insertion. The modified live vaccine I use contains vibrio and lepto. Other vaccines you may include are pinkeye, hardjo-bovis leptospirosis and scour vaccine.

Calf vaccination programs commonly use 7-way blackleg, modified live 5-way and pasteurella. You can give the first round of vaccines as soon as the last calf is a few weeks old. I have found, especially in fall calving cows, that this helps with winter pneumonia. However, some preconditioning programs require the calf to be at least 120 days old. In a herd with a good health program, calves should be able to wait until 120 days to be vaccinated.

Q. I was reading your response on your blog about modified live vaccines during breeding season. Are you saying modified live vaccines should not be given within a short time before insemination? If so, how many days?

A. Ideally it would be given 30 days pre-breeding, but I am comfortable vaccinating two weeks pre-breeding. Vaccinating close to breeding in cattle that have previously been vaccinated with modified live is not going to cause a wreck but could cause a slight
decrease in upfront conception.

Dan Goehl, DVM, and his wife own Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo., working with stocker and cow–calf beef operations. E-mail him questions at

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