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Veterinarian View | August 2022

Preconditioning Programs to Optimize Health for Weaning

contributed article by Dr. Vince Collison, Collison Embryo | Collison Veterinary Services, Rockwell City, Iowa

As we head into August, it is time to think about preconditioning programs for calves that will be weaned this fall. These can be very complex or very simple depending on the herd. I will outline what we think works best and some of the pitfalls we run into.

Vaccination Programs and Timing

For the least stress, it is best to perform these vaccination programs while the calves are still nursing the cow. The basic vaccination we recommend for all herds is to give a 5-way viral vaccine for IBR, BVD, PI3, and BRSV. There are modified live and killed versions of this vaccination available on the market. When possible, it is our preference to use a modified live version of this vaccine.

If you participate in the Iowa Gold Tag program, it has become a requirement to use a modified live version of the 5-way viral vaccine. If you are using a killed 5-way, it is still eligible for the Green Tag program. At some point in the future, modified live viral vaccine will be required for the Green Tag as well. It is important that producers consult with their herd veterinarian to determine which will be best to use in their calves.

Additional Vaccines

Also, at this time we usually recommend administering a vaccine for Mannheimia haemolytica (Pasteurella). This is one of the most common infectious agents we see related to respiratory disease in calves post-weaning. To get the most benefit from this vaccine, it is important to give this pre-weaning. Additionally, we like to give a vaccination for 7-way clostridials and Hemophilus somnus at this time as well.

Other Pre-Weaning Health Protocols

We also recommend using a product to deworm for internal parasites at the time of vaccinations. Deworming at this time gives the calf a better chance to respond to vaccines if it is not fighting the effects of parasitism. We also see the calf have a significant increase in bloom and weight after receiving a deworming product.

Parasites can also cause some immune suppression which would reduce the effects of vaccination. We like to see all of this done three to four weeks prior to weaning to give the calves time to develop an immune response to the vaccinations.

As a final thing, we will perform procedures such as castration and dehorning at this time. This is the time when the calves seem to tolerate the stress of vaccinations and surgeries the best.

Round Two Vaccinations

For many herds we recommend giving a booster two to three weeks later with the 5-way viral vaccine prior to weaning. Usually this is all we will give at this time. If the producer wants to Gold Tag the calves, we will give a 7-way clostridial/Hemophilus somnus vaccine as well at this time. This program is what we find works best in an ideal situation.

For many producers it is hard to get both rounds of vaccinations done while the calves are still on the cow. In these cases, we feel the booster with the 5-way viral vaccine at the time of weaning is the next best time to give the product. We feel once the calves are weaned more than a few days, it is best to avoid any other stresses such as vaccinations.

Benefits to Vaccinations Prior to Weaning

While vaccines give great benefits for disease prevention, they are not just an inert product. This is why we try to time their injections for the pre-weaning time when the calves are with their mothers and can tolerate the stress of vaccinations and to give the producer the maximum benefit from the vaccines.

Often we run into situations where producers want to wean first then vaccinate post-weaning. If calves are incubating any infections at that time, the stress of vaccination can set off a respiratory outbreak. If calves are weaned prior to vaccinations, it is often best to get three weeks past weaning and then give the vaccinations at that time. In this situation, the producer does not get the full benefit of the vaccine protection through the weaning phase and runs more risk of higher amounts of treatments during that time. As a side note, calves that have been vaccinated are usually more responsive to treatment if they should become sick.

Post-Weaning Protocols

During the post-weaning phase, a coccidiostat such as Amprolium can be fed to prevent the effects of coccidia. If a producer has had any problems with coccidia in calves, it can be prevented fairly well with this feed additive and it does not require a VFD. In addition to causing bloody stools, coccidia can also cause calves to be more prone to respiratory disease due to immune system suppression.

For many producers, it is necessary to do all of this to meet requirements for an official preconditioning program such as the Iowa Green Tag or Gold Tag program. For herds that have experienced issues with calves being suppressed after receiving multiple vaccinations, it may be best to try to split up the administration of vaccines to reduce the amount of antigens given at any one time. If a producer wants to use a minimal program, we will recommend only the 5-way viral vaccine and a product to control internal parasites. For the right situations this can work quite well.

Preventing Respiratory Disease

One other thing to consider, we will see many of the calves that are shown in prospect shows at the state fair break with respiratory disease when they come home. Often this looks like BRSV. We have seen a lot of benefit to vaccinating these calves with nasal 3-way viral vaccine prior to the state fair. These have helped to prevent BRSV in this type of calf, especially when there has not been time to fully vaccinate prior to the fair.

Work With A Veterinarian

As a final note, it is important for producers to work closely with their herd veterinarian to develop a program that works the best for their herd. Your nutrition, environment, closed herd/open herd are some of the many factors that can affect what you do for your herd and how well they respond. The herd veterinarian is there to help assess your program and determine what is best for your herd.

Dr. Vince Collison is co-owner of Collison Embryo | Collison Veterinary Services PAC

in Rockwell City, Iowa.

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