Raising Calves: Tips On The Best Time For Vaccination

Some advocate vaccination of newborn calves while others advise waiting because the energy of immune response is better used elsewhere so early in life

by Leslie J. Wyatt
PHOTO: Shutterstock

At Pine Crest Dairy in Custer, Montana, Jack and Maggie Howley don’t vaccinate at birth but wait until the calves are several months old, administering medicines as indicated. At Livin Dream Ranch in Polson, Montana, Beatrice Jensen vaccinates newborn calves against various Clostridium diseases. In addition to this vaccination, Jensen’s area is low in selenium, so she also gives a BoSe shot that is a selenium and vitamin E combination. Furthermore, she gives an oral nutritional drench to encourage appetite, nutrient absorption and energy.

The complex issue of vaccinating newborn calves is explored in a peer-reviewed article called Does Your Vaccination Protocol Compromise Newborn Health? by Sheila McGuirk, veterinary clinician at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, and Mark Cook, professor in Animal Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One factor still being studied is whether colostral antibodies interfere with the immune response to a vaccination. Though some vaccines instruct delaying intake of colostrum in order to allow the vaccine to take effect, the window for antibody absorption from colostrum is short, and this delay may negatively affect the calf’s health.

In McGuirk and Cook’s paper, they state that “an immune response to a vaccine requires energy that could better be used to fight off disease and gain weight, and the response could actually be detrimental to the early health of that calf.” Furthermore, “any immune system response can be challenging to the animal. And, the response can actually be more harmful to the animal than no vaccination at all if the specific immunity is not needed.”

Muscle tissues demand more nutrients to create the immunities, but these amino acids would otherwise be going to strengthen the calf’s health overall. So essentially, vaccinating a newborn can interrupt its growth and health, and without those elements, they can be more susceptible to illness and disease. Ultimately, Cook believes it’s important to find ways to limit immune response.

“If your calves don’t need vaccination, you shouldn’t use it,” he says.

This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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