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- How to prevent hidden costs of endemic disease through whole herd vaccination
Vaccination plays a huge part in control of endemic disease problems in dairy cattle, both for closed herds and those buying in animals. It reduces the ongoing costs of seemingly healthy animals whose productivity is compromised by having to divert energy towards an immune response. With respect to vaccination in adult cattle, the main endemic diseases to focus on are leptospirosis, bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and salmonella.
Paul Williams, MSD Animal Health technical manager says it may be difficult to quantify the physical and financial effects on the herd when there are often no obvious clinical signs or severe cases of disease.
“But it’s more cost effective to focus on preventing disease rather than treating the impact,” he adds.
"There’s always a risk of endemic disease entering your herd, by the very nature of them being endemic. It’s much better to have a robust vaccination programme in place so that, when the risk comes, you already have a level of immunity in place to mitigate its impact. Saying that, it’s never too late to start a vaccination programme, even where disease is already present in your herd.
A whole herd vaccination programme builds immunity to key endemic diseases throughout the whole population, not just individual animals, in the same way as the COVID-19 vaccination programme is designed to do for us.
However, he says there’s no blueprint, as every farm is different, and farmers should not rely on vaccination alone – it is one of a number of disease management tools.
“The first step is for farmers to talk to their vet about the specific disease risks and potential solutions on their farm. Farmers must not wait until they have the disease diagnosed before they think about vaccination.”
Whole herd vaccination
While running cattle vaccination programmes might seem mundane or pose practical challenges, with additional handling and labour to organise, these are outweighed by the benefits, says vet Owen Atkinson of Dairy Veterinary Consultancy.
“The majority of herds have endemic diseases present and, if left unmanaged, sub-clinical disease will keep pulling herds back with issues such as sub-par fertility or poor growth in youngstock. Studies show that having these diseases under control is something all top performing herds have in common.”
What to consider when vaccinating for key endemic diseases
Here, Owen explains more about what to consider when vaccinating for key endemic diseases.
- Leptospirosis vaccination begins with a primary course of two doses which ideally need to be administered to heifers before their first service and to any other naïve cattle. The doses need to be given at least four weeks apart but not more than six weeks, and the course should be completed two weeks pre-turnout, which is a high-risk period for leptospirosis infection. After that, a single-dose annual booster is required every spring before turnout.
- If herds are buying in cattle, they should be vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, particularly if they are soon to be grazed.
- It’s a ‘no-brainer’ to vaccinate against leptospirosis, particularly as it is zoonotic. Once farmers have evidence of freedom from the disease, they should do everything they can to maintain that.
Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR)
- IBR vaccination involves a primary course and an annual booster – in some instances it may require more frequent boosters. There are both inactivated and ‘live’ vaccines. The benefit of the live vaccine is it can be given in the face of an outbreak and acts quickly, with a booster administered annually after the initial primary course is completed.
- Again, the vaccine will never be 100% effective, but it will reduce the level of infection with IBR to a ‘baseline’ level. The infectious organism responsible is a herpes virus and once an animal has contracted it, it does not go away, it just waxes and wanes.
- However, the virus only starts shedding when the animal is immunosuppressed, for example around calving, and the aim is that a vaccinated animal never starts shedding.
- The difficulty with control is that there can be a lot of potential shedders in a herd which means that it’s not an option to follow the same method as for BVD, where one or two animals which test positive can be culled.
- Therefore, an IBR vaccination programme has to be rigorous, making sure that the primary course and boosters are given to every animal and always at the correct time to ensure the whole herd remains protected.
- Any bought in cattle must be vaccinated before introduction to the herd or as soon as they arrive, using a live form of the vaccine to give an quicker level of immunity. Homebred heifers should be similarly vaccinated before entering the main herd.
- Most IBR vaccines are known as “marker” vaccines, which allow you to distinguish between vaccinated and naturally infected animals. By using such vaccines, farmers can work towards IBR eradication longer term.
- There are two main strains of Salmonella to be aware of in dairy herds. S.dublin is the most common and can cause severe problems such as abortion storms and very sick calves, but it might not be so obvious that this is the cause of the symptoms. S.typhimurium is often a consequence of hygiene issues, spreading between young calves. It can be introduced by animals bought into the herd or by rodents or birds. It can be controlled by vaccinating dry cows to confer immunity to calves before birth and by improving hygiene management.
- Vaccination involves a primary course of a double dose, with annual boosters, three or four weeks pre-calving. It’s vital vaccination is carried out in conjunction with wider control measures, such as quarantining bought-in animals for at least four weeks, and then tested for infection before being introduced to the wider herd.
- There are also several biosecurity and management techniques, including isolating sick animals in dedicated isolation boxes and not calving boxes, which should be cleaned and disinfected between occupancies, and insisting visitors have clean boots and disinfect before entering and leaving the farm. Do the same with vehicles when moving cattle to and from other farms and buildings.
Bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD)
- Bulling heifers should be vaccinated with a primary course against BVD before first service and given an annual booster.
- The way BVD spreads and behaves is quite complex, so it’s essential that vaccination is carried out in conjunction with other disease control measures if farmers are to get significant and lasting benefits. Vaccination alone will not give 100% protection, so farmers also need to look for persistently infected animals (PIs) which shed the BVD virus. Animals testing positive can then be culled to remove the risk they pose to the rest of the herd.
- The tag and test system is an excellent starting point for identification of PI calves. A snip is taken from every calf’s ear during tagging, then tested for BVD antigen to see whether the calf has the virus. If a calf is found to be a shedder of the virus at one week old, it’s advised to test the mother to ensure she isn’t BVD positive too. This is why aborted calves also need to be tagged and tested.
- A closed herd carrying out the tag and test system will typically have tested the whole herd after 18 months. After that, as long as the herd remains completely closed, farmers can carry out antibody screening tests once a year in nine-month-old heifers, testing a sample of just five animals each time. If there is no BVD in the herd then no stock should have antibodies to it. It’s a way of monitoring the younger, non-vaccinated animals in an all-year-round calving, closed herd.
Leptavoid®-H Suspension for Injection for Cattle contains inactivated Leptospira interrogans serovar Hardjo vaccine antigens, POM-VPS
Bovilis® IBR Marker Live, Lyophilisate and Solvent for Suspension for Cattle, contains live Bovine Herpesvirus, POM-V
Bovilis® IBR marker inac Suspension for Injection for Cattle, contains inactivated Bovine Herpesvirus POM-V
Bovilis® Bovivac® S contains combined Salmonella dublin and Salmonella typhimurium vaccine antigens, POM-V
Bovilis® BVD Suspension for Injection for Cattle, contains inactivated cytopathogenic Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) virus, POM-V
MSD Animal Health UK Limited. Registered office Walton Manor, Walton, Milton Keynes MK7 7AJ, UK. Registered in England & Wales no. 946942.
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