Calving vaccinations

By: 
Darren Crawford
Fergus County Extension Agent

As April is turning to May, signs of spring are abundant. The birds are returning, the first flowers are giving color to the landscape and farmers and ranchers are busily getting their spring work done. Seeing the healthy and energetic calves playing in the pastures as the grass turns green is a sure sign of spring in Central Montana. Getting healthy calves doesn’t happen by accident, though. Proper nutrition and vaccination programs are critically important.

Calf vaccination programs are most often based around the clostridial diseases. Producers may add other vaccines (pinkeye, H. somnus or other respiratory vaccines, etc.) depending on their situation and veterinarian recommendations.

Clostridial diseases in calfhood vaccines belong to same genus as tetanus and botulism. Clostridial organisms are generally found in the animal’s body, but with ideal conditions, grow very rapidly to cause a disease state. Because of this, affected animals are usually found dead, not sick. Thus, prevention of disease through vaccination is a better approach than treatment. Here is a brief overview of each strain:

Clostridium chauvoei causes blackleg, which presents as air-filled swelling in heavy muscle that will crackle when palpated. There is no history of wounds with blackleg, unlike the next strain.

Clostridium septicum causes malignant edema, which results from contamination of wounds. Unlike, blackleg, malignant edema causes soft, fluid-filled swellings that pit on pressure. Large amounts of fluid are found in both subcutaneous and intramuscular connective tissue.

Clostridium haemolyticum causes redwater disease, also known as bacillary hemoglobinuria. Latent organisms lodge in the liver, waiting for localized cell death most often caused by liver flukes. C. haemolyticum produces beta-toxin, which ruptures red blood cells, leading to anemia and the presence of hemoglobin in the urine, hence the name redwater.

Clostridium novyi causes black disease, also known as infectious necrotic hepatitis. Like redwater, latent organisms wait in the liver for anaerobic cell death, again usually from liver flukes. Extensive rupture of subcutaneous capillaries can turn the skin black, giving this disease its common name.

Clostridium sordellii causes sudden death, primarily in feedlot cattle, and has no common name. It is characterized by massive black hemorrhage and smelly muscle necrosis in the brisket and throat area. Unlike blackleg, there is no gas formation from C. sordellii.

Clostridium perfringens type C and D cause enterotoxemia and overeating disease, respectively. Both lead to severe intestinal damage from necrotic and lethal toxins: type C produces beta toxin and type D produces epsilon toxin. Both are associated with the predisposing factor of the animal ingesting excessive amounts of nutrients. In calves, this may be after a period of dam and calf separation followed by a large intake of milk.

Successful vaccination needs an effective vaccine, a functioning immune system, and administration of vaccine before the animal is exposed to the disease. On branding day, do your part to make sure vaccines are effective. Keep your vaccines in a cooler with as little exposure to sunlight as possible. The temperature of your vaccine should be at least as important as the temperature of your branding beverages.

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