Improvement, they say, is accomplished by doing 100 things 1% better, rather than doing one thing 100% better. As we look more closely at our beef operations, what small changes will add up to large improvements in the health of your cattle?

Some health-related facts, such as a calf’s need for colostrum as soon as possible after birth, are well-known principles. Let’s explore some new knowledge that can improve the health of your calves.

Calf vaccination
For years it was thought a calf less than six months old could not be successfully immunized against the viral pathogens that cause bovine respiratory disease — IBR, BVD, PI3 and BRSV. But, newer studies show that, of these four viral pathogens, only immunization against BVD is affected by the passive immunity that the calf obtains via its mother’s colostrum.

If the dam has a high-titer-to-BVD ratio (greater than 1:64), then the calf’s passively acquired immunity does block the vaccine from working. But many cows will have a titer well below this threshold and their calves will be protected. What’s more important is that the vaccine’s IBR, PI3 and BRSV fractions will successfully immunize calves, no matter the dam’s titer to these pathogens.

This is great news in helping to develop solid immunity in calves more than five weeks of age. This is also a generally convenient time to give an initial dose of a modified-live virus (MLV) product as this coincides with branding time or fly tagging in many herds.

Vaccination timing
Another innovative research finding adds one more reason to get an MLV IBR vaccine into these younger calves. New research suggests that if calves with no IBR immunity are given an MLV IBR and a Manhemmia sp. (old name was Pasteurella sp.) vaccination at the same time, the IBR fraction prevents the Manhemmia sp. fraction from working correctly. This could mean increased morbidity and mortality in the backgrounding lot and the feedlot.

If you use Manhemmia sp. vaccination, be sure it’s given at least two weeks after the initial MLV IBR. My best advice is to work with your herd health veterinarian to develop a plan for your herd. You don’t want to learn too late that the calves you thought were fully immunized were not.

Parasite control
Another small change to improve your herd’s health is to get tougher on internal and external parasites. Currently available products are of high quality and economical.

Besides utilizing an initial vaccination against BRD at branding or fly tagging time; this is also a great time to use a pour-on dewormer on the calves. If you hot-iron brand, be sure to pour after you brand because some products contain alcohol.

Fly-tagging time is generally 4-10 weeks after pasture turnout; it’s also an ideal time to deworm cows and calves. The cost effectiveness of this procedure is excellent, especially with high calf prices. Calves particularly have had a chance to ingest internal parasite larvae that over-wintered on pasture; killing parasites at this time will allow the calves to gain better.

Cows will also benefit in improved gain and milk production, and the pour-on products have the added benefit of fly control.

Calves dewormed at branding or pasture turnout also will benefit from pour-on dewormers in that the residual effect is two to three weeks, in addition to some fly control. Deworm all calves again at weaning time. Deworm the cows after a hard freeze or as they go to stalk ground, stockpiled pasture or other winter feed.

You continually strive to produce calves with improved health and improved profitability. Adding some or all of these practices can add up to a large improvement in the end.

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. He is a regular contributor to BEEF magazine.