Protecting a calf at the beginning of the production period — while it is still on the ranch or farm — can have a big impact on productivity for the rest of the animal’s life. 

“A calf’s ability to stay healthy is shaped by what happens at the ranch,” says Bruce Hoffman, D.V.M. and Elanco technical consultant. “Sickness can reduce animal well-being and productivity, so it is important to have a strategy to keep calves from ever getting sick. If an animal is vaccinated on the ranch it is better prepared to meet disease challenges at the sale barn and beyond.”

Keeping calves healthy.

According to Hoffman, three factors affect a calf’s ability to resist disease: the status of the calf, the animal’s environment and pathogen presence. Calf status includes animal stress level, how well the calf is prepared to fight off disease, genetics and nutrition. Environment includes cold or heat stress, crowding and comingling. Finally, the presence — or absence — of bacteria and viruses within a calf can affect the potential for disease. These three factors work together to protect a calf or cause it to get sick.

“The biggest question is, how do we reduce stress to the animal?” says Hoffman. “While the calf is on the range, it’s in a low-stress environment, but when it gets to the sale barn it’s generally under a lot of stress and has a greater chance of getting sick.” 

Once a calf is stressed, its immune system is compromised, reducing the animal’s ability to resist disease and allowing viruses and bacteria — some of which occur naturally inside the animal — to cause infection. While an animal may not get sick on the ranch, if its immunity has not been built up properly, once it leaves the ranch it can be susceptable to viruses. This sets up a pathway for bacteria, primarily Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasturella multocida, to move into the lungs and cause life-threatening infections. Even if an animal overcomes this disease challenge, the lifetime profitability of the animal is reduced. 

“Reducing stress and giving vaccinations prior to transportation are excellent ways for a cow/calf operation to reduce the impact of respiratory infections and disease,” says Hoffman. 

Increased productivity, increased profit.

Producers receive premiums for quality calves that have been vaccinated for respiratory pathogens. Buyers see extra value in an animal that is less likely to get sick. Vaccination on the ranch is a good way to reduce the probability of an animal getting sick later in life. “The key is getting the vaccine into a healthy, well-nourished animal before periods of stress. In the face of stress, the immune system does not respond as well, so ideally we want to give vaccines in a low-stress environment,” says Hoffman. “This enables the animal to have immunity when it gets to that high-stress environment and is challenged by pathogens.” 

The ranch is a low-stress environment where a calf can respond to a vaccine by building immunity. A calf that has been vaccinated early in life will have a much stronger response to pathogen exposure it may encounter at the sale barn and is less likely to get sick or be affected by disease damage throughout its life.

“In general, there are too many calves that do not get vaccinated for respiratory bugs before they leave the ranch,” says Hoffman. “Producers need to realize the importance of vaccinating for viruses and bacteria, and should consider using Titanium® 5 + PH-M to get protection from both in a single vaccine. As an industry, it is our responsibility to prepare these calves for life by vaccinating, because disease not only costs producers money, it also impacts the entire production chain.”  

Elanco, Titanium® and the diagonal bar are trademarks owned or licensed by Eli Lilly and Company, its subsidiaries or affiliates.

©2014 Elanco Animal Health.

VAC 32280-1