Dairy Event 2011: Vaccination strategy is vital

Is vaccination necessary and how can it be used effectively? Two questions farmers should be asking before they even vaccinate animals for disease, as Simon Wragg reports.

Vaccinating cattle for disease such as leptospirosis, IBR and BVD can be costly, but it can also be money well spent when it is used as part of a wider health plan, suggest vets.

Most dairy herds have a degree of background disease that goes unnoticed. As a result, the cost to production and farm profitability is often hard to calculate. For example, the impact of diseases such as IBR or BVD, delaying a cow getting back in-calf, is calculated at between £1.50-£3 a head a day, according to recent studies.

Vaccination can be seen as a route to reducing disease and the associated costs. It comes at a price though, as pharmaceuticals – whether for animals or humans – are rarely considered cheap. In almost all cases vet advice is to view vaccination as a part of a broader health plan if its use is to be cost effective.

Simple steps can help producers draw up a successful vaccination plan.

First and foremost is to seek vet advice. An understanding of which diseases are already on-farm or prevalent in the local area is fundamental.

Second, a risk assessment should be done formally to identify how and where disease may be brought on farm and what impact it would have. For example, buying-in replacement livestock or breeding animals is a significant area of risk unless stock is of accredited disease-free status.

Other factors also determine risk levels. Movement of stock on and off holdings also increases risk. On-farm, animal-to-animal transmission is another common concern where neighbouring herds have adjacent grazing on boundaries.

Two questions should come to the fore when considering vaccination, says Ben Brearley of Livestock Partnership vets, Sussex. Is vaccination necessary and how can it be used effectively?

For example, dairy herds with endemic levels of disease such as BVD will only yield a partial response from vaccination if nothing else is done to limit the disease’s long-term impact. Identifying and removing persistently infected animals should also constitute part of a BVD-control programme.

Similarly, for younger stock, calf pneumonia presents a high health risk. Vaccination can help reduce disease levels, but without practical steps – such as improving colostrum intake, not mixing animals of different ages or improving ventilation in calf housing – its impact is lessened.

A vaccination plan is essential. Depending on the disease to be tackled, the age of the animals will determine the most effective time for livestock to be vaccinated. Planning is also critical to avoid times of greatest stress such as calving, turnout or winter housing that are commonly associated with an increase in disease levels.

Following simple steps can see investment in vaccine yield the greatest improvement in herd health:

• Seek vet advice on disease already on-farm or in the area

• Test animals to assess disease level and prioritise action

• Assess risks to herd health and what can be done to cut risks

• Plan vaccination use as part of a wider health plan

• Time, store and use vaccines according to advice on labels

• Monitor changes in herd health; alter vaccine use accordingly.

health planning timetable


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