“It is important to sit down with your veterinarian at least twice a year to review vaccination protocol,” said Patrick Gorden, DVM, with Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Freelance Writer
Boylen is a freelance writer based in northeast Iowa.

Gorden and several others recently published a fact sheet about how to best maintain your dairy herd’s health with a quality vaccination program.

There are many factors that affect vaccination programs, and there is no “one size fits all,” he said. Vaccination programs should be developed in cooperation with the herd veterinarian. Poorly managed vaccination programs can not only waste money and result in cattle that are not adequately immunized, it can even be dangerous.

Factors that should be taken into account when setting up a vaccination program include disease history, biosecurity, management, housing, type of vaccine (such as killed or modified live), the animals’ stage of production, costs and benefits.

Avoid giving too many vaccinations at the same time, as that practice can send animals into shock, Gorden said. Veterinarians generally develop vaccine programs so no more than two gram-negative antigens (i.e., E. coli, Salmonella and Moraxella bovis, the bacteria that causes pinkeye) are administered at any one time.


Administering too many vaccines like this at one time may cause animals to experience anorexia, milk production drop, abortions or endotoxic shock. Even when following the two gram-negative rule, you can still overload the animal’s immune system when administering several vaccines at one time. This may result in vaccine failure or the development of anaphylactic shock.

“Make sure you know what to do for the treatment of anaphylactic shock,” Gorden said. It is important to check on cattle immediately after vaccination and then every one to two hours for the first six hours following vaccination to detect these types of reactions.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency, and if animals are not treated quickly, death may result. He urged dairy producers to talk to their veterinarians to set up a protocol of what to do in this situation.

It is also important to make sure to always give the full dose of vaccine or it likely will not be effective for immunization, he added, and it is a waste of money.

According to Gorden, there are many calf vaccination programs that utilize half-doses of vaccines, oftentimes with repeated doses over a short interval during the period when calves should have maternal antibodies present, but Gorden said there is no research to support the effectiveness of doing this.

He was quick to point out that a good vaccination program is not a substitute for good nutrition, adequate ventilation, effective sanitation or other health management procedures.

Gorden said knowing the window of protection for each vaccine is very important. “Some vaccines only last 80 to 90 days.”

These vaccines are usually the bacterins (bacteria-based vaccines). “Unlike the viral vaccines, which typically elicit longer duration of activity, bacterins generally don’t,” Gorden said. “Therefore, producers need to place these vaccines in front of the period of the greatest challenge or implement re-vaccination strategies to maintain immunity.”

To protect newborn calves against bovine rotavirus and bovine coronavirus, producers can provide an oral vaccination, or an injectable rotavirus/coronavirus/E. coli can be given to the dam before calving. (Antibodies will be passed on to the calf via colostrum.)

If giving the oral vaccine to newborn calves, Iowa State University Extension guidelines recommend administering it 30 minutes prior to the ingestion of colostrum, or it will be inactivated.

To protect calves against infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine virus diarrhea (BVD), parainfluenza-3 (PI-3) and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), ISU guidelines state newborns may be treated with intranasal vaccines at 3 days old or older. Intranasal vaccines generally do not last as long as injectable ones, but there may be benefits to the earlier immune response.

Veterinarians sometimes recommend use of injectable IBR/PI-3/BRSV starting at 3 to 6 months old in addition to or instead of the intranasal administration in herds with a history of these diseases in young calves.

“In some situations, starting to vaccinate at a younger age with injectable vaccines may make sense,” according to Gorden. “Producers should work with their herd veterinarian to determine when to best place these types of vaccines into young calves in order to maximize the immune response in calves.

There are several variables that must be considered, such as maternal immunity, facilities available to process the calves, exposure to pathogens, etc. And every herd is different, so there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ vaccine protocol.”

Johne’s disease vaccination in calves can be an effective tool in the control of this disease, according to recent research. This vaccine can only be administered by a vet according to each state’s regulations. Ask your vet if your calves should be receiving this vaccine.

For calves 4 to 6 months old, ISU guidelines recommend:

  • IBR, BVD, PI-3, BRSV
  • Leptospirosis (five-strain)
  • A seven- or eight-way clostridial group
  • Histophilus somnus (Needs to be risk-based – consult with your veterinarian)

Pre-breeding recommendations include:

  • IBR, BVD, PI-3 and BRSV
  • Leptospirosis (five-strain)
  • A seven- or eight-way clostridial group

For pre-calving, they recommend (do not use modified live virus vaccines with pregnant cows without consulting your veterinarian):

  • A seven- or eight-way clostridial group
  • E. coli mastitis vaccine at least twice, at three and six weeks prior to calving
  • Rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli scours vaccine twice, at six and three weeks prior to calving.

Adult cows are generally vaccinated for IBR, BVD, PI3 and BRSV virus, leptospirosis, clostridial, E. coli mastitis and calf diarrhea diseases during the lactation period or the dry period.

“Vaccination of cows during the last three weeks of the dry period and the first three weeks of lactation should be avoided due to immune suppression associated with the onset of calving and lactation,” Gorden said. “The remainder of the vaccination program should be designed around the herd’s animal handling schedule, vaccine type used and times of greatest challenge.

Dairy producers should work with their veterinarian to design a best-fit program for their herd. There is too much variation from herd to herd to apply a cookbook vaccination protocol to every herd.”  PD

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer from Waterville, Iowa