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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care November 2012

Hi Folks,

With the topsy-turvy weather of mega-storm “Sandy” and temperatures only in the low 40’s and overcast, stress on your animals’ immune systems is probably happening. This brings to mind the topic of vaccination. I am not strongly in favor of vaccination nor am I opposed to vaccination – it all depends on factors within an individual farm. While vaccinating prevents disease, I think that it’s also a crutch that allows for unnaturally high density of animals to be kept together. Vaccines certainly can prevent terrible diseases - I thank God for the rabies vaccine. There have been no alternative forms of prevention for rabies. Unvaccinated people or animals that are bitten by a rabid animal will die unless they get the antibody treatment in time. On the other hand, some vaccines seem to be weak, evidenced by the need for one to two shots a year. One would think that a truly good vaccine would provide long standing immunity – hopefully for many years. For example, the rabies vaccine in people is good for 5-10 years and in most small animals it’s good for 3 years. I’m definitely not in favor of excessive vaccination programs as it may confuse the immune system or possibly create a tolerance effect, which is when the body becomes accustomed to the injected material and no longer mounts a response.

But backing up for a moment, I will always say that the best “vaccination program” is based on sound nutrition, fresh air, and ample clean, dry bedding. This should sound familiar by now. In other words, the foundational pillars of true biological health will provide for the strongest natural defense against most of the common bacterial and viral challenges. This means providing high forage diets, animals with good rumen fill, good muscle tone from healthy exercise, clean and dry coats/udders, and fresh air at all times. Everyone can picture this. But - if cattle are stressed due to damp/muddy or filthy conditions, diets bordering on acidosis, or from being confined indoors more than needed – vaccines can help fend off common cattle diseases.

Which diseases rattle cattle the worst? Pneumonia is obvious and really needs to be prevented. Having animals outside in weather like the eastern US experienced with mega-storm Sandy is simply not smart. But when weather is pleasant, fresh air is the best “vaccine” against pneumonia. The intranasal vaccines give very nice additional protection. Some folks would say that BVD (bovine virus diarrhea) is exceptionally bad to experience, especially if a classic outbreak occurs when many animals quickly go off-feed, have diarrhea, and die. Chronic low-grade BVD symptoms are more common: irregular heats and early embryonic death and/or chronic respiratory issues.  This may be due to a persistently infected (PI) animal being in the herd. Every moment a PI animal is alive it is shedding millions of live BVD virus particles to its herd mates – a situation which no vaccine can overcome. But once the PI animal is identified and removed, then the BVD FP (fetal protection) vaccines can prevent a PI animal from occurring.

Vaccines against the viruses which cause pneumonia are definitely something to consider using. These include BVD, BRSV, IBR and PI3. Vaccinating may be wise since it is the initial viral infection which sets animals up for the devastating secondary bacterial infection. The modified live vaccine gives protection for up to 18 months. Some immunology researchers say that if the viral vaccine is given at 6 months of age, the animal may be protected for life. If true, that would be fantastic.

Lepto is a bacterial disease which generally affects the kidneys in its classic form but more often causes abortion in mid-gestation. Lepto is found in rodent urine and also in standing water puddles/ponds in the warm seasons. Unfortunately, the cheapest lepto vaccines need to be given every 6 months, which basically means they are not very effective. If using lepto vaccines, use a vaccine containing Lepto hardjo bovis. Vaccinating with this one can give up to 18 months duration of protection.

The two kinds of vaccines I like the best are the intranasal vaccine (Inforce 3) to protect against pneumonia and ScourGuard 4KC for dry cows since it will boost the cow and newborn calf (by enriched colostrum). Other than that, use of the BVD and Lepto vaccines is site specific – history of disease, management, closed vs. open herd, etc.

Does an “open herd” have potentially more natural immunity to challenges than a “closed herd”? Yes – but the challenges may be very potent and therefore vaccinating open herds is usually a smart move. Is any herd a truly “closed herd”? If cattle dealers, animal haulers and nutritionists come onto the farm without using sanitizer on their boots, or even if you just buy just 1 bull every other year, your herd is not a closed herd.

Are there alternatives to vaccinating? Again, the best “alternative” to vaccinating is likely a solid framework promoting basic healthful living. Homeopathic nosodes have been used as alternatives. To what extent they are truly effective against hot challenges is open to speculation since only one real study, on kennel cough, has ever been done. Remember that anything will appear to work if there is no actual challenge. Maybe your feeding and housing is so good that it’s the main factor which is preventing disease, rather than the homeopathic nosode. But - maybe it’s both things working together! The real proof is when a hot challenge occurs – a good example would be animals being shipped, mingled in with yours and kept together indoors during the winter. One thing for sure is that using homeopathic nosodes will not overload the immune system or create tolerance, as they don’t work in the same way vaccines do (animals exposed to nosodes will not produce antibody titers). Nosodes are very safe to give but truly effective protection is an open question. Real homeopaths will tell you that nosodes are to be used only during a disease outbreak, as they are derived from actual disease material. Homeopathy does not generally put forth preventives, other than the pillars of health that I often mention: sound nutrition, clean and dry bedding, fresh air, etc.

I do think vaccines can be abused and harm the immune system if given too excessively. I don’t quite understand how we humans can get a tetanus shot that lasts for 10 years or a rabies vaccine that lasts 5-10 years and almost all the animal vaccines have instructions for re-vaccinating annually. To be sure, there are many alternative veterinary medicine friends of mine (small animal and equine vets) that take a blood sample to see what the protection level (titer) is to see if re-vaccination needs to be done or not. Maybe that’s something farmers should consider before re-vaccinating as well?

What about not vaccinating at all? If everything has been fine and you have all the foundational pillars of health in place and you aren’t buying in animals and whoever visits your farm has sanitized boots, then it should be OK. Always remember this: keeping your animals in robust health by proper feeding, frequent exercise and having clean and dry bedding is the first step in any immunization program.


For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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