(03/30/20) FARMERVILLE, La. — While most of the nation is sheltering in place to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, farmers and ranchers are working in the fields and pastures to keep the food supply chain going.
As with human health, prevention is the key to maintaining the health of livestock.
March and April signal spring vaccinations for cattle producers aiming to stay on top of their beef herd health programs.
“A herd health program for any phase of the cattle business should focus on preventing rather than treating diseases,” said LSU AgCenter regional livestock specialist Jason Holmes.
All herd health programs should be developed with the advice of a veterinarian, he said.
Each farm or ranch has different goals and risks, and the herd veterinarian can take those into account to build a herd health program specific to the individual operation that maximizes health results while minimizing inputs, said AgCenter veterinarian Dr. Christine Navarre.
Because producers are ultimately responsible for implementing an overall health program, it is important to consider the sex and age of cattle, program management and marketing strategies, Holmes said.
“Several specific health programs might be required on one farm or ranch to achieve optimum immune responses,” he said.
Observation and treatment of any animals that become sick is important, but for preventive measures medicine remains the key.
Cattle are a major investment, with pharmaceuticals being a big part of that investment, Holmes said.
“If you’re going to give immunizations, it makes good economic sense to do a good job of storage, handling and administration,” he said.
Union Parish rancher Seth Riser has about 200 cattle and is vaccinating his mature cows, calves and bulls now in anticipation of selling much of his calf crop soon.
“We try to do everything on our end. We don’t want to do anything on our end that would persuade a buyer to not buy our calves,” he said.
Following a strict vaccination protocol opens the door to better market opportunities from cattle buyers who are looking for quality performance, Riser said.
“It’s a combination of genetics and vaccinations, but I feel like the vaccinations are just as important because they are not having trouble with our calves,” he said.
On the cattle end, Riser believes in the value of vaccinations for the mature cow herd health as well.
“We stay with her, and we do it for our benefit,” he said.
“Veterinary costs are only about 4% of total inputs on cow-calf operations, but it’s important that those costs are optimized,” Navarre said, adding that once a herd health plan is in place, following Beef Quality Assurance guidelines will make sure vaccines, time and labor are not wasted.
To achieve an optimal immune response, AgCenter experts offered the following tips:
— Store vaccines properly. Vaccines should be stored at a temperature range of 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the refrigerator is cooling vaccines properly. Hold off purchasing vaccines not intended for use within six months because buying too far in advance runs a risk of refrigeration malfunction, which could lead to inactive vaccines.
— Don’t mix too much. Only mix what can be used within one hour because a modified live vaccine begins to degrade or lose effectiveness after that time. Direct sunlight also can degrade the product. Keep an insulated cooler chute-side to store syringes and pharmaceutical products.
— Restrain animals properly. Bruising alone costs the cattle industry millions of dollars per year. In addition, the processing crew is at risk of injury from an animal that is not properly restrained.
— Select the best route. The two most common routes of administration are intramuscular, which means injecting into the muscle, and subcutaneous, which means injecting just under the skin. Some products offer a choice; others must be given in a specific way. Check the product label to be certain. Where possible, use the subcutaneous route if approved on the label.
— Choose the best site. The best injection site is not necessarily the one that is fastest or easiest to get to but the site where the product will be the most effective with the least possible risk of damage to valuable cuts of meat. It is best to keep all injections ahead of the shoulder. The neck area is the preferred site for both IM and SQ injections. Space injections 5 inches apart or more if using an injectable dewormer at the same time. Use both sides of the neck when administering multiple products; for example, a vaccine on one side and dewormer on the opposite side.
“If we are not practicing best management practices when it comes to vaccinations, it’s just as if we don’t vaccinate at all,” Holmes said.