Vaccinations for cattle are one important way to prevent calf scours, and are becoming standard practice. Here are answers to the important questions you might have about vaccinating your calves against scours.
1. What are Calf Scour Vaccinations?
Vaccinations are preventative medicine. By injecting an animal with low-level or inactive strains of a virus or infectious bacteria, the immune system builds up a protection against it. Then when a calf encounters the virus or bacteria in the environment, its immune system has already built a resistance to it, and the calf doesn’t become ill.
While there are a wide variety of conditions, illnesses, and infections that result in scours symptoms, there are vaccinations for the most common infectious causes: rota-virus, corona virus, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).
2. Why Do I Vaccinate the Dam to Protect the Calf?
The recommended vaccination method for scours prevention is to vaccinate the pregnant dam several weeks prior to birth. This method reduces the stress on the calf while still providing the needed protection. Antibodies are then passed from the dam to the calf through the bloodstream prior to birth, but mostly though the colostrum (first milk) just after birth. This method of vaccinating the dam before birth increases the importance of the calf receiving a sufficient volume of colostrum in order to bolster its immune system.
There are vaccinations directed at preventing scours that are given directly to calves, and some vaccinations given to the dam will require the young calf receive a booster dose in the first few weeks of life.
3. Will Vaccinations Protect Calves from Scours?
As noted above, there are multiple causes that result in scours or diarrhea. Therefore, vaccinations are not a guarantee that calves will not have scours. The common vaccinations for scours prevention address the most common infectious causes: the rota-virus, corona virus, and E. coli. The calf could still develop an infection from a different bacteria or virus, have nutritional issues, or a have a parasite; all of which could result in scours symptoms.
While vaccinations will not guarantee calves will be totally free of scours, they do greatly reduce the risk and incidence of scours in most herds.
4. Are There Additional Benefits from Vaccinating for Scours?
In a scours vaccination program that includes vaccinating the dam in the weeks prior to birth, you are actually getting a two-for-one prevention program. Preventing sick cows through vaccinations can help prevent the spread of disease. Plus, a healthy cow through the next year provides the best chance of producing strong, healthy calves in the future. It is easy to see how an appropriate vaccination program can improve the overall herd health over time.
5. Is Vaccinating for Scours too Expensive?
Considering the negative impact of scours outbreaks in the herd, using vaccinations to prevent scours usually has an overall cost benefit. Preventing the loss of just a single calf to scours can typically provide a cost justification for a full vaccination program.
6. What is the Best Scours Vaccination Brand?
There are currently three leading brands/producers of scours vaccines that provide protection from varieties of rota-virus, corona virus, and E.coli, and they all claim to be the best. Declaring one to be the best, however, is difficult since each can properly claim distinct advantages in varying areas. The best vaccination may vary between farmers and ranchers as well. Compare important product features such as:
- Recommended periods of injection (i.e. 4-5 weeks prior to birth versus 8-12 weeks prior)
- Coverage (i.e. 6 strains of E.coli versus 4 strains)
For example, it may be more important for you to have a wider window for cow vaccination, so you sacrifice some coverage. Perhaps your main objective is to keep costs low. There are also claims that some brands are more effective in cold climates. Talk to a trusted vet, friend, or animal health professional about their experiences and recommendations as well as making direct comparisons. Then decide which product is best for you.
Vaccinations are not the only solution to preventing scours. However, they are an integral part of an overall scours prevention strategy that includes dam health, nutritional management, and housing/sanitation management. After all, prevention is always twice as good as a cure.
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