Timing is Everything for Newborn Calf Vaccines and Colostrum

Calves with bedding
( University of Wisconsin )

After nearly three decades in dairy veterinary practice, Northeast Iowa veterinarian Pat Boe said he sees a marked difference in the success of his clients who do an excellent job delivering colostrum to newborns, and those who struggle with the practice.

“Virtually all of our clients with exceptional herd averages of about 30,000 pounds of milk per cow per year also do an outstanding job handling and delivering colostrum,” said Boe, managing veterinarian at South Winn Veterinary Clinic, Ossian, Iowa. “Those who don’t manage it as well are the ones languishing around 22,000 pounds. It all starts on Day 1.”

Boe also stresses the importance of delivering every newborn a dose of oral vaccine containing modified live strains of rotavirus and coronavirus. But the timing interval between delivering both products is of critical importance.  In short, you don’t want one to deactivate the other, said Boe.

“I recommend waiting at least 20 minutes after administering the reconstituted vaccine to feed colostrum,” said Boe. This coincides with the label instructions for CalfGuard®, one of the most commonly used oral vaccines for rotavirus and coronavirus.

The veterinarian explained the wait time is necessary so the antibodies in colostrum do not deactivate the live viruses in the vaccine. “You want to give the vaccine time to do its job and allow the viruses to start replicating before the colostral antibodies enter the calf’s system,” said Boe. “They are both highly beneficial to the calf’s immune system, but if you’re not careful, one can cancel out the other.”

Boe counsels all of his clients to administer an oral rotavirus-coronavirus vaccine to every newborn calf, because those two organisms are the cause of approximately half of all clinical calf scour cases. “At about $1.50 a dose, it’s a tremendous insurance policy,” he stated.

Finally, he advises reconstituting the vaccine “calfside,” and administering it immediately. “Don’t mix it ahead of time and put it in your pocket,” he said. “The live organisms are fairly fragile, and should be transferred to the calf immediately after reconstituting.”

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