When to Vaccinate Beef and Dairy Calves
Knowing when to vaccinate your calves is an important part of cattle management. Calves can develop many diseases, but the best way to prevent them is to vaccinate them.
There are certain ages at which some vaccinations are more important than others, and these vary depending on whether you’re raising dairy or beef calves.
Below is a guide to calf vaccinations so you know when it is recommended to administer certain vaccines, and how these vaccines help to keep your new farm additions healthy and strong.
Why should calves be vaccinated?
Young calves are susceptible to many infectious diseases, including viruses, bacteria and parasites. Vaccines protect against these common illnesses by stimulating the immune system so that it can recognize and fight off disease.
When you vaccinate your calf, you’re providing him with long-term protection against many important diseases. You can also help protect other cattle on your farm or ranch by vaccinating your calves and taking other steps to keep them healthy.
Vaccination is a preventative measure that can help you avoid losses, but it's also used as a diagnostic tool when disease outbreaks occur. When your vet administers a vaccination, they’ll often take an oral swab from the calf's mouth to test for infection. This helps determine which vaccine is needed.
Vaccines can be administered at any time of year, but it's most common for farmers to vaccinate their livestock during the fall and winter months. This is when diseases like BVD and PI3 are most prevalent.
If you're raising your calves on pasture or indoors—or if you have recently purchased new cattle—there are some critical times when vaccination should be done in order to protect them from disease and increase their chance of survival into adulthood:
Birth to six weeks of age
The timeframe in which you should give your calf its first vaccine depends on whether it is a dairy or beef calf. Dairy calves receive more vaccinations earlier in life, while beef cattle usually don’t receive shots until at least four weeks of age. In both cases, these vaccines prevent disease by making the animal produce antibodies against bacteria or viruses that can cause disease.
Here is a guide to the first vaccines that each type of calf should receive during their first few weeks of life:
Vaccines for Dairy Calves in their First Week:
• Intranasal IBR/PI3
Vaccines for Dairy Calves, Five Weeks of Age:
Vaccines for Beef Calves 4-5 weeks prior to weaning:
The first vaccine given to calves is usually a combination vaccine containing an effective dose of all the major respiratory diseases:
• Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus — a respiratory infection that causes coughing, fever and runny nose
• Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) viruses — also known as "shipping fever" because it's transmitted by flies
• Parainfluenza Virus 3 (PI3) — an upper respiratory disease that causes nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, and fever
• Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV) — a stress-related disease that weakens the immune system and causes respiratory symptoms
It's important to vaccinate your calf on schedule. Skipping a dose can leave the calf vulnerable to disease and may require another series of shots.
Work with your veterinarian to ensure that your calf is getting the proper vaccinations during the proper timeframes.
Vaccines to give at weaning:
Most infectious diseases are spread from cow to calf, so it’s important to vaccinate cows before calving. Giving vaccines at this time also protects calves from diseases that may be more common in the environment (such as leptospirosis) and offers protection for the cow during her lactation.
If you sell your calves after they are weaned, it is important that they be vaccinated against clostridial diseases and tetanus prior to sale. These vaccinations should be given at least four weeks before market; however, they can also be administered up to six months after birth if necessary.
If you intend on keeping your calf on farm for another year or two before sending them off somewhere else, then it's best that he receives his vaccination series at a young age. This allows him to develop immunity against all major diseases by the time he goes out into the world.
To be on the safe side, it is recommended to vaccinate calves at least three months before they are going anywhere off of your property. This will ensure that they develop immunity against all major diseases and are protected from any infectious agents in your environment.
Here are some common vaccines given to calves at weaning:
Vaccines for dairy calves at two months (Boosters):
Vaccines for Dairy Calves at three Months:
• 7-way Clostridium with Haemophilus
• 7-way blackleg booster
• 5-way leptospirosis
Four to six months of age
While your calf may not appear sick, it is important to vaccinate them at four to six months of age. These vaccines are usually administered by a veterinarian.
Here are some vaccines commonly administered to calves at four to six months:
• 7-way blackleg
• Bangs vaccine (heifer calves only)
• Pasturella toxoid
• Bangs vaccine
• 7-way Clostridium with Haemophilus
When arriving on a new farm
If you're bringing in a newborn calf that has no prior vaccine records, it's best to vaccinate as soon as possible.
Newborn calves are especially vulnerable to disease, as their immune system has not yet had the chance to fully develop. The sooner vaccination can be given after birth, the better chance your calf has at protecting itself from common diseases like BVD and PI3.
A veterinarian can administer these vaccines during the weaning period (about three weeks after birth) or before weaning (anywhere from two months old on).
As the calf ages
As a calf ages, he will require more types of vaccines. Vaccines are given for several reasons. They can be used to prevent diseases in calves, boost their immune systems and prevent disease outbreaks.
Vaccines can also be used to prevent disease transmission from other animals on the farm or from wild animals that may carry disease. The vaccination schedule for each animal is determined by the farm veterinarian based on its age and risk factors for disease exposure (such as proximity to wildlife).
The most common vaccines given to cattle include:
• Brucellosis vaccine – This is a bacterial disease that can cause abortions in pregnant cows. It is also transmissible to humans, leading to flu-like symptoms and arthritis.
• Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) vaccine – BVD causes respiratory disease and death in young calves. It can also be spread from animal to animal through contact with infected feces.
• Coccidiosis vaccine – This bacterial infection can lead to diarrhea, weight loss and death in young calves. It is often a problem on large dairy farms where cattle are kept indoors for long periods of time.
• Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) vaccine – This bacterial disease causes respiratory disease in young calves and can be spread through contact with contaminated fluids or by wild birds.
At thirteen to sixteen months, dairy cattle should receive these vaccines:
• 5-way Leptospirosis
Keep track of your herds vaccinations is vital. Take a look at Farmbrite to help you keep track of important dates like booster, withdrawal and weening dates.
It is important to remember that not all calves will need all the vaccines mentioned in this article. The type of calf, his environment and where he came from all play a role in determining which vaccines he needs.
If you have any questions about when your calf should be vaccinated and which vaccines should be administered, talk with a veterinarian who has experience working with cattle.