Stress is inevitable in any cattle operation and greatly impacts calf health and performance. Handling, weaning, transportation and other prolonged periods of stress are often unavoidable and can all have a negative impact on immune function. Lower immunity can lead to illness, disease spread and, ultimately, performance losses. To combat the inevitable challenges, producers can mitigate risks with preventative herd health protocols. Vaccination and trace mineral nutrition are key components to a preventative health program. Both are important because they have a symbiotic relationship in maintaining healthy immune function and animal performance.

Cain kevin
Technical Service Director / Axiota Animal Health

Importance of vaccination

Vaccination is a valuable tool for preventing infectious diseases in cattle. Working with a vet to assess herd health management procedures and associated pathogen risks is the first step in developing a vaccine protocol. Considering a branding and preconditioning program may also be a solution to prime the immune system so that weaning boosters generate a memory response, providing better pathogen protection. When it comes to vaccination protocols, it is important to follow established guidelines for timing and administration. Many vaccines require booster shots to be effective, so it is important to work with a veterinarian to develop a schedule that ensures that all animals receive the necessary vaccinations at the appropriate times.

When given to the animal, vaccinations stimulate the immune system to produce specific antibodies targeted to combat disease-causing viruses or bacteria. After vaccination, a healthy immune response should translate to a memory of those specific pathogens. This memory helps the animal mount a more rapid response if it is exposed to pathogens it has been vaccinated against, helping avoid infection and clinical signs of illness. However, there is no 100% guarantee every animal will respond the same to a vaccine.

Trace mineral nutrition

Most times, the immune response to vaccination can be impaired in animals with suboptimal mineral status. While vaccination is critical to help protect against infectious disease, it is equally important to support the calf’s immune system through adequate trace mineral nutrition to ensure they will respond properly to vaccination.

Essential trace minerals, such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium, are essential components of many enzymes and proteins that are involved in immune function. These trace minerals are necessary to produce antibodies, cytokines and other immune system components that are critical for an effective immune response to vaccination.


While these minerals are present in many common feedstuffs, they may not always be available in sufficient quantities or in forms that can be easily absorbed by the animal. Particularly during periods of stress and weaning, consumption of oral products may be delayed or may not provide adequate levels. A university study showed that animals that were bunk broke and on a total mixed ration (TMR) with oral supplements at 150% of the National Research Council (NRC) requirements took 28 to 42 days to achieve similar trace mineral levels as compared to an injectable trace mineral (ITM) product.

ITMs provide a readily available source of these essential trace minerals to cattle. These products are administered subcutaneously and absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream within eight to 10 hours, providing both a quick boost to the animal’s trace mineral status at critical times of stress and transition and complete avoidance of nutritional antagonists that may be present in the rumen. Since this product is fast-acting, it is designed to complement oral nutrition programs at critical times of stress, such as vaccinations.

Strategic supplementation of trace minerals to support vaccine response

Supporting oral nutrition programs with ITMs can be particularly beneficial to young or weaned calves. Preconditioning and weaning are stressful times for calves, and stress can suppress immune function. This can make calves more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as respiratory disease, which can be costly to treat and can impact overall productivity. Providing ITMs to calves prior to or during these stressful times can help improve their immune response and support overall health, potentially enhancing the effectiveness of vaccination and reducing the risk of disease. Research results have shown that calves that received ITMs at the time of vaccination had higher antibody titers (a measure of the immune response) than calves that did not receive the ITM, resulting in a 27% increase in herd immune response to vaccination.

ITMs can also support vaccine protection and immune response when a disease is present. The University of Georgia conducted a study that evaluated the impact of ITMs on calves who were challenged with bovine diarrheal virus 2 (BVDV-2) and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) to induce illness after vaccination. Prior to the challenge, calves received a primary intranasal vaccine, which was later boosted with an injectable vaccine. Endoscopic images were captured to compare the clinical effects of the challenged calves following the booster vaccine and the use of ITMs. Results showed a decrease in clinical signs and sickness following a disease challenge with BVD and IBR in calves treated with ITMs at the time of vaccination, compared to calves who did not receive ITMs. All these studies were conducted with cattle on a good oral supplement during the study.

Optimizing vaccine return on investment (ROI)

Supporting an oral supplement program with ITMs during periods of high demand and stress, such as vaccination and weaning, provides confidence that every animal treated is supplemented with the trace minerals needed for a healthy immune response. By taking this comprehensive approach to calf health management, producers can help ensure the long-term success of their operations.

Consult with your local veterinarian on the proper use of ITMs and work together to formulate comprehensive vaccination and herd health protocols.