Cattlemen considering a move to later calving may want to also consider taking a look at their cowherd vaccination program.

Researchers are continuing to focus on Clostridium perfringens Type A, an emerging pathogen often associated with severe calf disease such as abomasitis, which can result in fatality rates from 5% to 50%.

“It’s a multifactorial disease,” says David Van Metre of Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Sciences. “No one has found the complete set of factors that cause it.”

While the pathogen is more common in bottle-fed dairy calves, it can be a problem in beef calves, according to Larry Hollis, Kansas State University Extension beef veterinarian. “One scenario where it might be a problem in beef calves is when calving is delayed into the spring months such as April-May,” he says. “If the grass greens up and the cows start milking heavily while the calves are still small, the calves may engorge on milk and experience a problem.”

Van Metre recommends focusing prevention measures on enhancing immunity and using feeding practices that inhibit proliferation in the gut. He recommends:

  • Using good colostrum and milk/milk replacer hygiene.
  • Avoid feeding long-stem forage too early.
  • Whenever possible during severe weather, encourage calves and dams to stand up to limit milk engorgement by the calf after the weather passes.
  • Make sure animals have adequate copper and selenium status.
Research indicates that vaccination can help control losses. In a trial Van Metre conducted on a commercial dairy operation, he randomly assigned cows and pregnant heifers to a control or a vaccinate group. Vaccinates received two doses of clostridium perfringens Type A toxoid.

“The cows and heifers receiving two doses of the vaccine generated significantly higher antibody titers to alpha toxin one week after the second immunization than did controls,” he says. “Additionally, the calves ingesting colostrum from vaccinate dams had significantly higher serum neutralizing antibody titers to alpha toxin than calves born to controls.”

Hollis says February-March calves are usually big enough to consume all the milk the cow produces once spring green-up comes around and she starts milking heavily. However, younger calves might be at risk. “If I were spring calving (April-May), I would consider including vaccinations for Clostridium perfringens in my program,” he says.