Many beef producers think their vaccination program is their herd health program, but that's too thin a viewpoint, says Dr. Arn Anderson, who practices from his Crosstimbers Veterinary Clinic at Bowie, Texas.
Vaccination is only one part of a complete herd health program, Anderson stresses, ladling a lot of emphasis on the words "part of."
"But vaccines do not replace management," he adds.
Moreover, he says, a vaccination program can never overcome poor management. In fact, good management includes working with a local veterinarian to design a vaccination plan tailored to your location and specific to your farm/ranch.
"You can go to the internet and type in 'beef vaccination plan' and you'll get one," Anderson says. But he warns that is not good management and may not help protect you from the problems with disease and mineral deficiencies or excesses on and near your farm.
Evaluate your herd's needs
Instead, Anderson says, your herd health plan should be well thought out and well tailored to your individual operation.
He gives this unusual example. He tells of one client who is extremely bright and a good manager of money, cattle and land. That operator has no vaccination program. He doesn't deworm, either. He operates a closed herd on a fairly large acreage. Working with Anderson, the client has penciled out his risks, expecting some degree of disease outbreak every few years and figuring the death loss is ultimately cheaper than the total costs of a vaccination program.
Anderson says that's because a vaccination program has four main costs: labor, weight loss, death loss, price of the vaccines. That means each ranch must make decisions about costs and returns because that is part of the equation.
Shop around for herd health help
When shopping for a veterinarian and seeking help with a herd health program, Anderson warns, you should look for a source that is unbiased. Bias equals money. If your vet recommends a specific brand of vaccines for everything, you need to ask if that's because he or she is seeking rebates for volume sales by the manufacturer. If it looks that way, ask him or her, Anderson says.
When you work on your herd health plan also consider biosecurity, Anderson says. In fact, improved biosecurity is a great place to start.
• How does disease enter your herd?
• How can you prevent it?
• Do you have a plan contain illness when it happens?
• What might you be overlooking?
Anderson gives this example of oddball disease transmission: He had a client who liked to trap wild hogs. He would gather them into a stock trailer for keeping and transport, then park it in a corral pen just uphill from a small pond where his heifers drank. Many abortions into a wreck, he realized that vaccinating his heifers for the bovine strain of leptospirosis did not protect them from the strain of lepto carried by hogs. Rain had washed it down into his pond and infected his heifers.
Anderson also says you should consider whether your parasite control is adequate. Heavily parasitized cattle can have compromised immune systems.
Is the environment in which your cattle live healthy or is it crowded, wet and confined? What parasites or bacteria could thrive in whatever environment your cattle live in?
Seven steps to whole-herd health
1. Define goals and expectations for your health program
2. Diseases to prevent. What's common in your area and on your ranch.
3. Product selection. Talk with your veterinarian about what vaccine products are available and why he or she recommends them. The variety is huge and your choices should include considerations for such things as level of protection and duration of immunity.
4. Include in your plans such things as timing and practicality. Truly, most cattle only pass through a chute twice a year or less and those are the realistic times to give vaccinations. Pick products that will work with your schedule.
5. Beef Quality Assurance is a great program and should be used. It includes the recording of every health product you use; serial numbers, expiration dates, injection site mapping.
6. Establish a system of reviewing medications and vaccines and measuring response. Set measurable points such as weaning weights, methods of treating sick animals, etc. Then yearly have a discussion and measure to see whether making improvement.
7. Build your health program around hard evidence. For example, what diseases in the past have your livestock had? What worked to solve the problems? What did necropsies show to be the problems? What is your real percentage calf crop?