With weaning right around the corner and producers starting to think about their preconditioning programs, now is also the time to think about the different paths you can set your heifer calves on. They may be placed in a feedlot with their steer counterparts or grown as a prospect for replacement heifers for the cow herd. The different goals for heifer calves will impact their future immunity goals.
Once the decision is made about which heifers will be retained as replacements and which will be sent to the feedlot, you can start determining their immunity needs. Replacement heifers will need to be vaccinated to achieve lifelong immunity and the ability to raise healthy calves for years to come. Heifers sent to the feedlot also need lifelong immunity. Their shorter lifetime and different environment requires different protection needs. Heifers destined for the feedlot won’t need reproductive immunity but will need to be vaccinated for bovine respiratory diseases and clostridia.
Replacement heifers need to be vaccinated to protect themselves as they enter the adult herd, and producers also need to be aware of their impact on herd immunity. The replacement heifer vaccination program should maintain or possibly increase the level of herd immunity in the cow herd. Herd immunity is when a high percentage of the herd in a given location has immunity to a given disease. Since vaccines are not 100% effective, we also need to rely on overall herd immunity to help protect the herd’s health.
Improper handling, inadequate doses, wrong strain of vaccine given and improper timing may negatively impact vaccine effectiveness. It is important for producers to work with their veterinarian to determine vaccination needs for all components of the herd — mature cows, replacement heifers, bulls and feedlot cattle. Veterinarians are the experts when it comes to determining which diseases you need to protect the herd from and tailoring vaccination protocols that are effective and fit local diseases, the herd and the animals’ life cycle.
A producer’s vaccination protocol should be accomplished in accordance with the animals’ life cycle and with the farm’s annual events, such as planting crops and making hay, in mind. Working with the local vet, producers should pick a vaccine that fits their timeline for routine farm work and modify it to fit the enterprise’s needs. Unfortunately, if the vaccination protocol is too difficult, it more than likely will not be done in a timely manner, or at all.
Regardless of the path the heifer calves end up on, having a vaccination protocol that fits the specific needs of the animal is imperative to reaching the end goal of having a productive replacement heifer enter the cow herd or a healthy heifer enter the feedlot.
Cauffman is the Extension livestock educator for Grant, Green, Iowa and Lafayette counties. This column is provided by the University of Wisconsin Division of Extension Livestock Team.