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Cattle producers must review vaccine selections

Kelton Spain for Progressive Cattleman Published on 22 February 2019

Animal health vaccine usage is a confusing and misunderstood process by many cow-calf ranches throughout the U.S. With confusion comes many questions. Why have we chosen the vaccines we use in our beef cattle production systems?

Are we doing what has always been done? Did the animal health sales representative give a persuasive pitch at the time?

I will attempt to give some context for consideration on the processes used in vaccine selection without undermining the veterinary community or the company sales representatives that support their products. Both are hard-working groups and strive to support ranchers. However, after spending the majority of my career consulting on product labels, explaining timing and booster benefit of vaccinations, I have firsthand knowledge to share.

Many cow-calf producers could benefit from more information and a better understanding of vaccines, but historically, have done what those before them did. Furthermore, most have not budgeted or considered the value of information the veterinarian or consultant can provide to understand vaccine labels and make appropriate selections for their specific herd needs and goals. Vaccine labels have all the information about the product, strains of virus or bacteria, boosters, and injection site.

Getting ready to immunize

However, if you have ever tried to read a label from the vaccine box, it can be a daunting and frustrating task. The verbiage is complicated and often hard to understand. The print challenges even the best of reader glasses given the small font size, and the list of active and inactive ingredients make most want to throw in the towel and only look at the dosage.

However, the value is in knowing the advantage an immunized herd has over a vaccinated herd. An immunized herd has better likelihood of fighting off disease and disease spread. The immunized herd has been boostered with vaccinations that require a booster in the correct time.

Essentially, a vaccinated herd is given a one-time dose that may not last through the year. It is important for producers to understand the reason for using the products and to use the products correctly since this can affect the bottom dollar. Many of our herds are only vaccinated and not immunized. Disease can occur and spread quickly in cattle herds, causing significant loss. Proper immunization with the proper products and proper timing can help minimize the threat of disease.

Many times, the vaccine consult given by a veterinarian is during a multitasking visit, such as preg checking cows, emergency work on the ranch or at a brucellosis vaccination. The information given is seldom written down and often changes from the time the veterinarian gave a recommendation due to product drift, which can happen quickly with increasing back orders and switching of products by suppliers.

Animal health companies generally have targeted marketing programs. This is a tool used to try and attain brand loyalty. For example, producer programs are typically tied to the amount of sales dollars a producer will spend during a year or during a specific time frame. Credit for products purchased are tied to sales tracking by the animal health company. If a producer has an account tracked through a sales tracking program, then things are simplified.

However, if a producer purchases through a nonreporting entity, then invoices must be gathered and sent to the company if the producer wants to be part of the marketing program. This can be time-consuming and frustrating for the producer. The smaller producers are generally left out because their purchases cannot reach the program minimums.

In addition to producer marketing programs, there are programs for the veterinarians, dealers and distributor representatives. A producer may hear about the features and benefits of products, but discussions about potential disadvantages may not come up.

Products used by producers need to be researched and understood. Information, education and integrity about a product’s advantages and disadvantages can save money and headache for beef cattle producers. It is a producer’s responsibility to seek clarity in understanding vaccines and make informed decisions about which product is selected.

One way to do this is to ask more than one sales representative about options available for the product(s) being marketed. Another is to ask the veterinarian or consultant why he or she is focusing on a particular product. The producer should also create a vaccine accountability plan, review it annually and stick to it. Taking the time to do this will answer the questions, “Why are you choosing each vaccine?” and “Is that vaccine decision helping your bottom line?”  end mark

PHOTO: An immunized herd has better likelihood of fighting off disease and the spread of disease than just a vaccinated herd. Staff photo.

Kelton Spain is the owner of Premier Livestock Consulting LLC and provides consultation to producers on animal health product selection. He also researches low-stress cattle handling, animal welfare and ruminant nutrition as part of the consulting practice.

Kelton Spain
  • Kelton Spain

  • Owner
  • Premier Livestock Consulting LLC
  • Email Kelton Spain

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