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The Lasting Benefits of Pre-Weaning Vaccinations in Beef Calves

How early vaccination can help improve the health of your cattle herd.

“Producers should consider vaccinating calves at 2 to 4 months of age, depending on the operation,” said Dr. DL Step, professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Colostrum consumed by a newborn calf provides protection against infectious diseases. However, this protection is only temporary, lasting a few weeks to months, and calves must start building their own immunities.1 Vaccination during this time of transition can help protect the calf until weaning age. The following are three key benefits of incorporating pre-weaning vaccinations on your operation.

1. Reduced stress

During weaning, calves are faced with stressors such as castration, transportation, disease challenges, weather fluctuations, dietary changes and more. Stress can cause immunosuppression in a calf, decreasing its ability to respond to disease-causing pathogens and vaccines, making it susceptible to respiratory disease.2 “Early vaccination gives calves the opportunity to stimulate their immune systems to work at optimum levels,” said Dr. Step.

2. Enhanced BRD and BVDV protection

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is the top health and economic issue facing the beef industry today.3 Once calves are affected by BRD, there are both immediate and long-lasting effects on performance. Studies have shown that calves challenged by BRD could weigh up to 36 pounds less at weaning than their healthy herd mates.3 Early vaccination can help producers prepare calves for challenges they may face during weaning time, ensure calves are less susceptible to becoming infected with pathogens and have a more rapid immune response to the various pathogens that cause BRD.4

Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), another growing health issue in the cattle industry, can result in reproductive, digestive and respiratory problems in the herd. Once infected, calves can shed a high level of the virus, spreading the disease to other susceptible animals.5 Studies have demonstrated calves as young as 5 to 6 weeks of age can be effectively immunized against BVDV.6 “BVDV Type 1b has been identified as the most common subtype found in persistently infected calves, so make sure the vaccine you choose offers solid protection against it,” Dr. Step recommended.

3. Cost effective

In the case of calf health, prevention is key. Calves affected by BRD can greatly reduce profits through poor performance and increased morbidity.3,7 The average cost of BRD in the United States cattle industry is more than $640 million annually.8 “When your calves are protected and healthy, it will show in their performance and well-being,” said Dr. Step.  

Pre-weaning vaccination is an opportunity to provide additional comfort and protection for your calves. “Producers should work with their local veterinarian to develop a vaccination program catered to their environmental conditions and herd goals,” Dr. Step added. “For best results, ensure you are handling and administering the vaccines in accordance with Beef Quality Assurance guidelines.” By incorporating early vaccination into a regimen, producers can enhance their herd health and create the quality of animals sought by feedyards, packers and ultimately consumers.


1. Boyles S and Shulaw B. Beef calves and colostrum. The Ohio State University Extension. 2008. Available at: Accessed Jan 15, 2018.

2. Lovaas B. Preweaning vaccinations. University of Minnesota Extension. 2012. Available at: Accessed Jan 15, 2018.

3. Wittum TE, Perino LJ. Passive immune status at postpartum hour 24 and long-term health and performance of calves. Am J Vet Res 1995;56(9):1149–1154.  

4. Powell JG, Richeson JT, Kegley KP, et al. Immune, health and growth responses of beef calves administered modified-live virus respiratory vaccine in the presence of maternal antibody versus a traditional vaccination regimen, in Proceedings. AABP Annu Conf 2012;45:220.

5. USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services – Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health. Bovine viral diarrhea virus. 2007. Available at: Accessed Jan 15, 2018.

6. Zimmerman AD, Buterbaugh RE, Schnackel JA, Chase CC. Efficacy of a modified-live virus vaccine administered to calves with maternal antibodies and challenged seven months later with a virulent bovine viral diarrhea Type 2 virus. Bovine Pract 2009;43(1):35–43.

7. Fulton RW, Ridpath JF, Saliki JT, et al. Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) 1b: predominant BVDV subtype in calves with respiratory disease. Can J Vet Res 2002;66(3):181–190.

8. USDA NASS, Agricultural Statistics, 2011.