All cattle operations, dairy and beef, should have clostridial protection in the farm’s protocols.
Calves ideally should receive their first clostridial shot after colostral immunity has waned, usually at about three months old.
The herd will vary in age because of the length of calving season but producers should vaccinate all animals during spring processing, especially if they are not handled again until fall. Otherwise, the animals will be susceptible over the summer.
It’s ideal to follow up with a booster shot one month later. In reality, the follow-up shots often come later than that because cattle are on summer range. However, in high-exposure areas, there are herds where we must make sure the priming shot and booster are given about a month apart before they go to pasture. Otherwise, exposure to redwater or blackleg could take them down.
Every time cattle are processed, producers must ask if the animals are due for a clostridial vaccination.
Calves are often vaccinated when entering a feedlot. Replacement heifers should be given clostridial vaccines, along with shots for infectious respiratory disease and bovine viral diarrhea, before breeding.
As well, when banding older bull calves, a tetanus shot must be given at least two weeks before banding and a booster shot must be administered at the time of banding. The initial shot should not be given at the time of banding because that is too late.
Veterinarians in some areas used to recommend clostridial vaccines every two to three years. The opinion on this is changing and most now insist on giving yearly booster shots, although twice yearly shots are recommended for producers in known redwater areas because immunity lasts only about six months with redwater.
Just like other vaccines, colostral immunity is important, so by vaccinating cows we get some colostral protection for their newborn calves.
That is why the diarrhea-causing clostridial antigens are included in the scours vaccines — to get protection into the newborn calf through the colostrum.
Dairy cows and calves should fit into the same program. Any time you give a vaccine, it creates stress because of the pain of the needle, but it also stimulates the immune system.
High-producing dairy cows will decrease milk production, which is why it is good to vaccinate during the dry-off period with that group. One might argue that a bit of stress helps them dry off.
The good thing is they are getting maximum immunity to go into the colostrum.
Cows that live totally inside may still be exposed to dirt coming in with feed. As well, during the dry period, most cows are outside, potentially exposed to clostridial spores.
I am always surprised at how many dairy cattle are not vaccinated. Any bruising makes cattle susceptible and the prostaglandins used in synchronization can do this when injected, as is clearly explained on the label of prostaglandin products. This is another good reason to have clostridial protection, especially in dairy cows.
As well, breeding bulls shouldn’t be left out when it comes to vaccines. Bulls are not usually handled that much, so yearly boosters at semen-testing time is probably the way to go.
If there is one vaccine that should be mandatory in beef cattle, it should be clostridial vaccines.
I recommend multivalent vaccines that offer protection from many bacterial strains (nine- or 10-way). The vaccines may be combined with histophilus on many occasions but these vaccines do not contain tetanus. Work with your veterinarian because we still see far too many clostridial outbreaks.
Clostridial disease almost always causes death and is highly preventable. It also can be avoided by getting protection from the cheapest vaccines on the market.
In my mind, there is no excuse if you are raising cattle and not vaccinating.
Remember to handle and administer clostridial vaccines properly. Keep them refrigerated and avoid freezing.
Dosage amount varies depending on the brand, so be sure and read labels.
Vaccinating for clostridial disease is an absolute must.
Happy processing and vaccinating everyone.
Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.