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Main diseases in southern cattle

The following provides a brief discussion on the main diseases in southern Australia beef herds for which vaccines are available. It highlights when vaccination is most useful and provides examples of appropriate programs.

Clostridial vaccinations are relatively cheap. They require two vaccinations at a minimum of four weeks apart to provide strong immunity. A single shot at calf marking provides only short‑term protection and it’s not until the second dose is given that calves/cattle can be considered protected. Black disease almost always occurs when liver fluke is present, so if cattle have liver fluke then keeping them properly vaccinated is important.

In general, where there is any risk of clostridial diseases, proper vaccination is extremely cost effective and worthwhile. Bulls should be vaccinated at least annually (after their initial two doses).

Leptospirosis can not only cause abortion in cattle but can infect people working with animals. An effective ‘lepto’ vaccination will help protect those working around cattle, as well as the cattle themselves. In general, lepto vaccine is given in conjunction with clostridial vaccine (as 7-in-1). However, if you have already been using 5-in-1 across your herd and you want to start a lepto program, you can give at least one of the initial two doses as a lepto only vaccine.

Pinkeye vaccination should be considered for beef enterprises where pinkeye occurs, especially given the challenges with treating affected animals. Only a single vaccine dose is required 3-6 weeks prior to the challenge. Where prolonged challenge occurs, a booster vaccination after five months will provide good pinkeye control.

Pestivirus vaccination is one way to control bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV). An effective vaccination program (an initial two doses with annual boosters) will minimise the impact of BVDV but once commenced, it is likely to be an ongoing commitment in the herd. Therefore, discuss your herd status and the use of Pestigard® in your herd with your veterinarian.

Calf scours is another complex disease with a number of different organisms potentially being responsible. However, vaccination is usually effective at decreasing scours, even though the vaccines do not cover all the potential pathogens. Cows need to be vaccinated pre-calving to ensure adequate colostral antibody levels to protect young calves.

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is mostly an issue in feedlot cattle and is uncommon in beef cattle at pasture but may occur at weaning, especially if yard weaning. For producers selling animals to feedlots, or if you have received feedback from abattoirs about pleurisy and lung lesions in pasture fed cattle, consideration should be given to vaccinating animals prior to selling. Some feedlots offer premiums for vaccinated cattle.

Vibriosis can result in poor reproductive rates. It can be controlled by making sure bulls are properly vaccinated. Bulls should receive two doses of vaccine prior to their first use, followed by annual booster vaccinations. Vaccination of heifers and cows may be required where bull control is problematic or where herds are found to be infected.

Bovine ephemeral fever (BEF), or three-day sickness, is a viral disease in cattle, transmitted primarily by mosquitos. It is common in central and coastal regions of northern NSW and vaccination is the only means of preventing the disease, with two initial doses required.

Botulism is usually a problem in northern beef herds, but occasional problems can occur in southern beef herds. Vaccination is an option if your herd is at risk to botulism.

Bovine Johne’s disease (BJD) vaccine is most likely to be used in dairy herds. The current vaccine (Silirum®) provides good protection against BJD, and assists in control by reducing shedding of BJD organisms for infected cattle. While Silirum® is a killed vaccine, it only requires a single dose for lifetime immunity so booster doses are not required. As young calves are the most susceptible to infection, it is important on endemic properties that calves being retained as breeders are vaccinated as young as practical, which usually means at marking. If you have BJD and are considering vaccination, you will need to discuss your program with your veterinarian and ensure it is permitted in your herd. Vaccinated cattle must be permanently identified using a three-hole ear punch.

Tick fever is a group of three separate diseases transmitted by cattle ticks. It is localised to the cattle tick endemic area of northern Australia. Producers who want to move cattle, especially bulls, north of the ‘tick line’ should consider vaccination against tick fever. Cattle should be vaccinated at least eight weeks prior to movement into the tick endemic parts of northern Australia to allow time for protective immunity.