Veterinarians detail the cost/benefit of a Volkswagen, Chevy and Cadillac herd health program.

Disease prevention means more than simply loading a syringe and injecting the magic potion. Granted, it's an integral part of a thorough infectious disease prevention program, but it's still just a part, says Texas A&M University veterinarian Steve Wikse.

Wikse says proper nutrition that supplies the right amounts of nutrients needed for a strong immune response - like energy, protein, vitamins A and E, and the minerals copper, selenium and zinc - are also the foundation for a sound herd health program.

But vaccinations alone, says Lynn Woodard, University of Wyoming veterinarian, are "just a tool to prime the immune system so when you get exposure you can ward off infection. In fact, all the vaccinations in the world won't overcome flaws in management such as poor nutrition or excess stress."

Woodard firmly believes that following a well-designed herd health program goes a long way in curtailing shipping fever problems. "But, anything you can do to minimize stress at weaning and shipping helps. If we were really adept at controlling stress, that would be just as effective as some vaccination programs," he says.

VW, Chevy Or Cadillac In an effort to put a dollars-and-cents business perspective on vaccination and herd health programs, Wikse and other Texas A&M veterinarians have developed a model of three different vaccination schedules - with costs - that can provide varying degrees of risk against disease losses and help cut shipping fever problems.

The examples are based on a 1,000-cow herd with 30 bulls, a 900 weaned calf crop and 300 heifers kept as replacements. Costs for the programs include only the cost of the vaccines purchased locally. There are no estimates for labor, syringes or needles. Also, a 60- to 90-day calving season makes administration of these three programs easier, Wikse points out.

Here are how the Volkswagen, Chevy and Cadillac vaccination programs stack up.

Volkswagen Program Plainly, this is a basic vaccination program, says Wikse. It protects calves against clostridial diseases and cows against the three most common reproductive diseases: brucellosis, leptospirosis and campylobacteriosis.

"These are must vaccinations," Wikse claims. "Herds that do not vaccinate against them are risking an unacceptable amount of loss of animals and productivity."

In addition, he says anaplasmosis and redwater could be added in areas where they are risks.

Wikse also says this program doesn't work well for retained ownership because "there are no vaccinations given for respiratory tract pathogens in this program."

Cost for the vaccines in this program in the 1,000-cow herd runs $3,114 or $3.11/cow.

Chevy Program This is a souped-up version of the VW program. It adds coverage by providing intermediate degrees of protection against viral embryonic deaths or abortions and viral pneumonia of calves, Wikse says.

In addition to vaccination of adults against the clostridial diseases, this program adds multiple vaccinations against the "Big Three" viruses to calves and replacement heifers in an attempt to develop a long-lasting immunity, Wikse explains.

"We hope that in adulthood, periodic exposure to field strains of these agents will serve as 'natural boosters,'" Wikse says.

He adds that killed virus or certain modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are options for nursing calves. Use of MLV vaccines in calves that are nursing pregnant cows has been thought to be dangerous due to possible vaccine virus transmission to the cows, resulting in abortion. Recent research, however, has shown that certain MLV vaccines do not spread from vaccinated calves to nonvaccinated cows.

"It's not known, however, if killed virus vaccines can serve as primer immunizations like MLV vaccines in the face of maternal immunity," Wikse says.

Cost for the vaccines in this program in the 1,000-cow herd runs $5,854.90 or $5.86/cow.

Cadillac Program This is a more complete program and provides better protection against reproductive losses due to the Big Three viruses, Wikse says. It also supplies all the vaccines required for preconditioning calves against pneumonia.

The basic additions to the Chevy program are annual vaccinations of adults against the "Big Three" viruses, and include Pasteurella hemolyticum toxoid in the calf vaccination program.

Cost for vaccines in this program in the 1,000-cow herd runs $8,692.80 or $8.69/cow.

Naturally, depending on location and other factors, some veterinarians would modify these cow-calf vaccination program guidelines. In fact, Wikse claims some might even add a Mercedes program that would include vaccination against trichomoniasis and/or vaccination of dams in late pregnancy against agents that cause calf scours.

Still, with the three programs above, the big question remains: Do the extra health costs pay off? Absolutely, Wikse claims.

He says the above programs show vaccine costs of roughly $3/cow, $6/cow and $9/cow, respectively, to provide different levels of risk protection.

Figuring a $400 calf at weaning, the improved production needed to cover vaccine expenses would only be eight calves for the 1,000-cow herd to implement the Volkswagen program, another seven calves as it moves to the Chevy program, and another seven calves to move to the Cadillac program.

"So, production would only have to improve by 2.2 calves per 100 cows, or 22 calves per 1,000 cows, or an overall 2.2 percent increase in production to pay for the vaccines in the Cadillac program," Wikse says. "I'd expect a good vaccination program to increase a beef herd's production far more than that."

Region-By-Region Differences Obviously, vaccination and herd health programs vary by region. For example, in North Central and Western states, Wyoming veterinarian Woodard says their vaccinations programs do not include lepto vaccination for calves. "We rarely see lepto as a cause of abortions anymore so we recommend vaccinating calves only if it's endemic to the area," he says. "As an insurance policy, cows should be vaccinated with vibrio/lepto annually."

Woodard also recommends vaccinating cows for scours - which is more common in northern states - as close to calving as possible. "Be sure to use scours vaccines that act against both E. coli and viral agents," he says.

To stay abreast of new technology and vaccine regimens, Woodard urges producers to develop a good relationship with their local veterinarian. "There is no one size fits all vaccination program. You need to do things that work in your area," he says.

(These vaccination schedules are general guidelines only. Details of a specific ranch vaccination program should be based on the advice of a local veterinarian who is familiar with that ranch's management practices and the diseases that are prevalent in that area, says veterinarian Steve Wikse.)