605 West 5th Street

Morris, MN 56267 US




Vaccination programs for cow herds are designed to protect animals in the herd against disease caused by infectious organisms, such as viruses or bacteria. Vaccines contain killed or modified live organisms which do not cause disease but stimulate the animal's immune system to mount a response. The immune system will then remember how to mount a response against the organism if it is infected with that organism later. A vaccine cannot prevent infection but will increase the animal's ability to throw off the infection or lessen the severity of the disease.

Customize a vaccination protocol for your cow herd. Vaccinations may be added or omitted according to the specific needs of your herd.  By being involved in the design of your herd health program, our veterinarians will be better able to help you prevent disease and deal effectively with it if it occurs.  It is extremely important to follow label directions when administering vaccines, observing all slaughter withdrawal and milk withhold instructions.

Modified Live or Killed Vaccines
Most vaccines contain either modified live or killed organisms. The organisms in modified live vaccines, both viral and bacterial, replicate themselves in the animal after injection. Because the organisms have been modified, they do not cause the disease but will stimulate the immune system. Modified live vaccines are mainly available for diseases caused by viruses, such as infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR). Killed vaccines contain organisms or sub-units of organisms which do not replicate or reproduce themselves in the animal after injection. Killed vaccines contain an adjuvant which further stimulates the immune system to respond to the vaccine challenge.

In general, modified live vaccines stimulate a longer lasting immunity than killed vaccines. However, some modified live virus vaccines can cause abortion in pregnant cows. In addition, some modified live vaccines are not approved in calves nursing pregnant cows because of the slight possibility that the calves could temporarily shed the vaccine virus and infect the cows. Modified live vaccines can be used in weaned calves, including replacement heifers. If a vaccine is used correctly, whether it is modified live or killed, it will increase the animal's resistance to disease. Our veterinarians can provide valuable advice about which vaccines best fit your herd's situation.

Although vaccines will not cause the disease they are designed to protect against, some animals may have a fever temporarily after vaccination. Some may have swelling and soreness at the site of injection. In some cases, animals may go off feed and decrease milk production for a few days.

Booster Vaccinations
For young animals being vaccinated for the first time, a second or booster vaccination is often required a few weeks after the first or primary vaccination. A booster vaccination is usually required for killed vaccines that do not replicate in the animal once they are injected. The label directions will indicate when and if a booster vaccination is required. Failure to give the booster at the proper time could result in an incompletely protected adult animal even if that animal is vaccinated every year thereafter.

The time between the primary and booster vaccinations is of interest to beef producers. Management considerations make it difficult or impossible for some producers to booster vaccinate within the time span called for on the label, which is often from three to six weeks after primary vaccination. Our veterinarians can answer your questions about the timing of booster vaccinations.

Proper Handling of Vaccines
The best vaccine program can fail if the product is damaged by improper handling. For example, if the label states that a vaccine should be stored at 35 to 40 degrees F, the vaccine should be refrigerated. Vaccines should not be allowed to freeze, nor should they be stored in direct sunlight.

Most modified live vaccines must be reconstituted by adding sterile water to a dehydrated cake in a separate sterile vial. Once the water is added, the vaccine organisms are fragile and will be live for only a short time. As a rule of thumb, only reconstitute enough vaccine to be used within 45 to 60 minutes. Use a cooler or other climate-controlled storage container to protect reconstituted vaccines from extremes of cold or heat and from sunlight.

Keep needles and syringes clean to avoid infections at the site of injection. Do not use disinfectants with needles and syringes used for modified live vaccines. Even a trace or film of disinfectant in a syringe or needle can kill the live organisms and make the vaccine worthless. Use mild soap and rinse thoroughly with hot water to clean injection equipment used with modified live vaccines. You can use a mild disinfectant and then rinse with water to clean needles and syringes used with killed vaccines.

Do not mix different vaccines together in one syringe or combine other injectable drugs into the same syringe with vaccines. Although this method has been advocated as a method of reducing the number of injections, it may inactivate the vaccine because of incompatibilities with the other compounds.

Method of Injection
In general, the preferred site for injection is in the neck, both for intramuscular (IM) or subcutaneous (SQ) injections.  Intramuscular injections of some products, in particular clostridial (blackleg) vaccines, can cause significant muscle damage. Avoid the hind quarters of the animal. Injection site reactions there will cause damage to a valuable beef product. This muscle damage costs the beef industry millions of dollars a year from lost product and lower calf prices.

Vaccinations for Different Animals in the Herd
Two main categories of animals should be vaccinated to prevent infectious disease in the cow herd:

  • Breeding animals (replacement heifers, bred replacement heifers, cows, and bulls).
  • Calves (suckling, pre-weaning, post-weaning).

Breeding Animals
Replacement heifers, cows, and bulls should be vaccinated before the breeding season to keep resistance high. The following vaccinations are commonly recommended:


  • Replacement heifers: Use a modified live virus vaccine after weaning and before breeding.
  • Pregnant cows: Use a product which is approved for them. Some modified live virus vaccines may cause pregnant cows to abort.

Leptospirosis 5-strains

  • Give Lepto twice a year, once before breeding and once at calf working or pregnancy check.
  • They are available as a combination vaccine produced by many different companies.

Clostridial (blackleg) booster vaccination

  • Pregnant replacement heifers: Give a booster vaccination before their first calves are born to increase immunity passed on to calf through colostrum.
  • Mature cows: A booster with clostridial vaccine before calving is not routinely recommended.

Scours (may contain a combination of coronavirus, rotavirus, E. coli, and/or Clostridium perfringens)

  • When calfhood diarrhea (scours) or sudden death has been a herd problem, an accurate diagnosis aids in determining the appropriate vaccine to use.
  • A vaccine can be administered to cows in late-pregnancy to prevent diarrhea in their calves. Vaccination raises the level of antibodies in the dam's colostrum suckled by the calf after it is born. Antibodies from colostrum provide the calf's immunity for the first few weeks and months of life.
  • Some vaccines are labeled for oral administration to calves immediately after birth, before ingestion of colostrum.

Clostridials (blackleg)

  • Vaccinate at three to four months of age.
  • Give a booster according to label a few weeks later.
  • Revaccinate at four to six months of age if first vaccination was given before three months of age.

Pinkeye (IBK)

  • Vaccinate three to six weeks prior to fly season in herds where pinkeye is a problem.
  • Annual vaccination is recommended.


  • Give primary vaccination before weaning.
  • Booster vaccinate a few weeks later at or before weaning. Follow label directions for time between vaccinations.
  • Couple this vaccination program with weaning 30 to 45 days before shipment to reduce incidence of shipping fever.
  • Earlier vaccination may be recommended in herds at risk of pneumonia in nursing calves.


  • For two to eleven month-old replacement heifers.

Histophilus somni (Haemophilus somnus)

  • Vaccinate before weaning.

Manheimia haemolytica

  • Vaccinate before weaning.

Disease Descriptions
IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis)

  • A viral disease, resulting in respiratory disease, reproductive failure, and abortions.
  • It is sometimes called red nose and is often implicated as an infection which initiates the shipping fever complex.

BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhea)

  • A viral disease which can cause high fever, diarrhea, respiratory disease, loss of appetite, depression, discharge from the eyes and nose, and lameness due to inflammation.
  • Chronically infected animals usually appear unthrifty and starving. Death occurs more frequently in chronic BVD infections than in acute BVD infections.

PI3 (Parainfluenza Virus)

  • A virus which can cause respiratory disease, sometimes implicated as an infection which initiates the shipping fever complex.

BRSV (Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

  • A virus which can cause severe, acute respiratory disease, especially in young cattle.

Leptospirosis (5-strains)

  • A bacterium causing abortion in pregnant females and sickness in calves.
  • The five strains include: hardjo, icterohaemorrhagiae, canicola, pomona, and grippotyphosa.
  • Breeding animals should be vaccinated with a five strain Leptospirosis vaccine at least once a year before the breeding season.
  • Booster vaccination later in the year is recommended.


  • A bacterial disease caused by Campylobacter fetus venerealis, resulting in failure of early pregnancy and an extended breeding season as females come back into heat.
  • Vaccinate breeding bulls and females at least once a year before the breeding season.
  • Vibriosis vaccine can be combined with Leptospirosis in one vaccine.

Clostridial disease

  • Fatal disease of young cattle caused by one of the Clostridium bacteria.
  • Blackleg is the most well known, but other clostridial diseases are also highly fatal.
  • The most commonly used clostridial vaccination in cattle is the seven strain combination which protects against Clostridium chauveoi (blackleg), Clostridium septicum and Clostridium sordelli(malignant edema), Clostridium novyi (black disease), and three types of Clostridium perfringens(enterotoxemia).

Histophilus somni (Haemophils somnus)

  • A bacterium which can cause respiratory, nervous system, and reproductive diseases.

Pinkeye (Infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis, or IBK):

  • An infection of the eye caused by the bacterium Moraxella bovis, which can be spread by flies.
  • Higher incidence of pinkeye may occur in herds not vaccinated for the IBR virus.

Manheimia haemolytica

  • A bacterium causing shipping fever pneumonia, often after infection with one of the respiratory viruses such as IBR, PI3, BRSV, or BVD.
  • Newer vaccines containing the leukotoxoid portion of Manheimia haemolytica are more effective than the older vaccines, which did not provide adequate protection.


  • An infection resulting in abortion in females and inflammation and damage to the testicles in males.
  • Caused by the bacterium Brucella abortus.
  • It is also known as Bang's disease.                           
  • Vaccination is necessary for heifers being shipped into some states; therefore, many sales require that all heifers sold be calfhood vaccinated so as not to restrict the potential market.
  • Calfhood vaccinates are marked in the right ear with an official orange ear tag and a special tattoo, denoting the year of vaccination.

E. coli

  • A bacterium which can cause a life-threatening infection and diarrhea (scours) in newborn calves.


  • A virus which can cause diarrhea (scours) and dehydration in young calves.


  • A virus which can cause diarrhea (scours) and dehydration in young calves.

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