Feeder cattle pre-vaccination programs gaining momentum

Jon Condon, 13/11/2017

SHARP rises in the value of feeder cattle over the past three years, together with advances making vaccination programs more ‘user friendly’ have seen a rapid expansion in the uptake of pre-vaccination to better protect cattle from Bovine Respiratory Disease.

Currently Australian feedlots with capacity of around 300,000 head are offering price incentives for cattle producers prepared to pre-vaccinate feeder cattle with at least one shot of BRD vaccine (details below) before arrival.

Companies and feedlots which are publicly offering pre-vax premiums on feeder cattle include:

  • JBS Australia’s Prime City, Riverina, Caroona and Mungindi
  • Teys Australia’s Charlton and Jindalee
  • NH Foods’ Whyalla feedlot
  • Thomas Foods International’s Iranda Beef
  • Mort & Co, Pinegrove, and
  • Elders Killara (see this morning’s separate story profiling Killara’s experiences this year).

While there have been ‘rudimentary’ pre-vaccination incentives offered by some lotfeeders in Australia for seven or eight years or more, earlier uptake has been mixed at best, and disappointing, at worst, for a variety of reasons.

Vaccine manufacturer Coopers told the recent SmartBeef feedlot conference in Armidale that volume of sales in its improved Bovilis MH +IBR vaccine for bovine respiratory disease had climbed 50 percent in the past 18 months.

One of the reasons is recently-extended label claims, making the vaccine’s use much more convenient (see details below), as well as sharp rises in feeder cattle value since 2015.

Bovine Respiratory Disease causes between 50pc and 90pc of morbidity and mortality in Australian feedlots, and the disease is estimated to cost the Australian beef Industry at least $60 million in lost productivity and losses each year.

BRD is a complex disease involving many contributing factors that, if combined, compromise the respiratory defences of affected cattle, allowing infection to establish in the lungs and produce severe, sometimes fatal, pneumonia. Contributing factors include stressors such as transport, dietary changes, feedlot induction, pen competition and mixing of cattle from different sources.

Because of this, vaccination programs are more prevalent in southern states, where herds are smaller, and co-mingling more common. Breed type is also a factor. Northern cattle are much less likely to require vaccination before feedlot entry.

Bronson McLay from NH Foods’ Whyalla feedlot said the biggest issue the company faced in feedlot animal health was BRD. “Vaccinating on farm reduces the risk of the disease, meaning cattle are healthier and perform better,” he said.

Pre-vaccination has had a positive impact on animal wellbeing, reducing antibiotic use and improving profitability in participating yards, the SmartBeef audience was told.

An earlier independent trial over a 12-month cycle in a southern feedlot using about 4000 black cattle, roughly divided into treated (one shot on farm, and the second at feedlot entry) and untreated (previous best standard) groups, produced a reduction in mortality rate of 78 percent (declining from 32 to 7 head), while rates of sickness fell from 376 to 127.

Pre-vaccination price incentives on feeder cattle (typically $15 and $30 for one and two shots, respectively) was a part of the emerging trend towards closer supply chain relationships – a regular topic at this year’s SmartBeef conference.

During a presentation to delegates, Coopers’ Rob Baines said some level of stress was inevitable when young cattle were sold, co-mingled with others, or transported to a feedlot.

“The key is finding ways to minimise an outbreak of BRD due to that stress, and there are some really good case studies of the impact of vaccination, from a feedlot’s point of view, surrounding preparation and pre-vaccination,” he said.

“It’s about improvements in animal welfare. The biggest impact BRD has on a stressed animal is allowing an animal to get sick, and in some cases, die. Vaccination delivers a good welfare outcome, as well as reducing labour, time and effort involved in tending sick animals and lowering antibiotic use.”

“More consumers are saying we want lower use of antibiotics, and pre-vaccination reduces that need to medicate sick cattle. It’s pretty simple – if animals aren’t sick, they eat more, and perform better in daily gain in the feedlot,” he said.

Mr Baines suggested BRD was not a ‘feedlot-specific’ problem, but a ‘beef industry’ problem.

“Once we get the whole industry focussed on reducing the background infection, we think we will see some serious reduction in the rates of BRD being seen across the industry,” he said.

In his view, within another five years, the industry will move from the current common practice of delivering the first shot on farm and the second at induction at the feedlot, to administering both vaccine shots on-farm before transport.

“We think that will become industry best practice – and producers will be rewarded for it,” he said.

The downside with delivering the second dose at induction at the feedlot was that it took time for the vaccine antibodies to rise to effective levels.

Changes to vaccine use lifts attraction

Earlier this year, following extensive serological trials, animal health company Coopers was authorised to change label claims for its BRD vaccine, Bovilis MH+IBR, delivering greater flexibility and convenience in the product’s use.

Overcoming one of the key points of producer resistance to earlier incentive-based pre-vaccination, the inter-vaccination interval (the time ‘window’ between the first and second vaccine doses) was extended from 14 days to 180 days (six months).

The previous label recommendation was for two vaccinations just 3-4 weeks apart.

The change to label claims has been possible through scientific data generated in Australian cattle populations, and represents a significant step for the grainfed beef industry.

Previously, one of the most common points of resistance to pre-vaccination from producers was the fact that animals needed to receive their first vaccination just two to three weeks before delivery, meaning sale cattle often had to be brought in especially for treatment.

Under the new label change, the greatly extended treatment period means the first vaccination can be administered much earlier, and as part of normal husbandry practices such as weaning, rather than requiring a special muster for treatment.

“By providing more flexibility in the interval between doses, its made it possible for cattle producers to more conveniently pre-vaccinate young cattle at a time that fits with other farm activities,” Mr Baines said.

“It’s certainly helped drive acceptance.”


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  1. Jane Morrison, 16/11/2017

    Terry Ward, I would be happy to discuss Bovilis MH+IBR programs and when it would be best used for your situation.
    Please call Coopers Toll Free on 1800 226 511 and we can answer your queries.

  2. Terry Ward, 15/11/2017

    Is it possible for vaccine manufacturers to combine BRD with 7 in 1 or are they not compatible with each other. Does the BRD have better efficacy if delivered later or closer to feedlot entry?

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