Vaccination of calves as a disease prevention

Vaccines are very important tools to reduce antimicrobial use and thereby slow down the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance. Vaccinations can also reduce production losses associated with disease and are therefore leading to more sustainable animal production.

The risk of mortality and morbidity in calves is highest during the first few weeks of life. The main causes of mortality change during the pre-weaning period: septicaemia is most likely to occur in neonatal calves (up to 28 days of age); diarrhoea in calves less than 30 days old, and bovine respiratory disease in dairy calves more than 30 days old. During this critical period, many farmers could consider vaccination and other preventive interventions to minimise the risk of diseases.

The decision of ‘if’ and ‘when’ to vaccinate and against what pathogen should always be done after consultation with the herd veterinarian. The veterinarian can determine the need for vaccination and the ability for vaccines to reduce the current health challenges on a farm. This includes a good knowledge of the herd health history, diagnostic sampling of animals, the disease challenges in the area, evaluation of specific risk factors and other management routines that might impact animal health e.g. colostrum management.

It is very important that vaccines are kept at the indicated temperature and it is vital that the manufacturer’s guidelines for injection and timing of vaccination are closely followed. Many management factors can limit the effectiveness of vaccination including inadequate nutrition, adverse environmental conditions or presence of parasites. Therefore, it is important that the animal is not suffering any undue stress, or nutritional deficiencies or clinical disease.