IN WHAT promises to be the most important animal health initiative seen in Australia in 20 years, a new industry-wide vaccine protection program called ‘Immune Ready’ is being launched this week across the beef and dairy sectors.
The new Immune Ready Guidelines represent a cross-industry collaboration to enable cattle producers and lotfeeders to differentiate sale animals, based on their vaccination and health status.
The program (click here to access new Immune Ready website) will help enhance on-farm biosecurity, and boost animal health and welfare performance, delivering better and more consistent production outcomes.
While isolated pre-vaccination programs have existed in the past in the feeder cattle and herd bull markets – with patchy success, at best – Immune Ready is the first attempt to engage the entire supply chain with vaccination protection, integrated into a broader program.
Industry stakeholders will soon start to see this distinctive Immune Ready Guidelines logo. It is likely to be used in upcoming late spring bull sale catalogues, but Immune Ready will ultimately have application right throughout the livestock production system – from weaners to feeders and fed cattle, as well as herd bulls and breeding cattle replacements.
In what is an extraordinary first for the animal health industry, the program is not limited to products from a single vaccine supplier, but embraces a suite of important vaccines (some region-specific) produced by all three Australian cattle vaccine manufacturers – Coopers, Virbac and Zoetis.
In another unprecedented move, Immune Ready will be endorsed and supported by a range of national industry bodies, including the Australian Cattle Veterinarians (a special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association), Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Lot Feeders Association, Meat & Livestock Australia, Animal Health Australia and Dairy Australia.
The concept behind Immune Ready has been three years in development, with the focus and scope of the project becoming larger, and more ambitious along the way.
At the program’s heart is the need to drive greater cattle productivity and performance throughout the Australian beef supply chain, in an increasingly competitive global meat and livestock market. The 13 diseases covered by the program (see table below) collectively extract an enormous toll on the beef industry’s annual productivity performance.
Impact for cattle vendors, buyers
For cattle vendors, Immune Ready allows sellers to be recognised for producing premium, healthy, productive cattle that have been adequately prepared and protected for sale.
It also promotes on-farm biosecurity, safeguarding against disease and productivity loss on their own property. The risk of disease in Immune Ready cattle to buyers is reduced through appropriate vaccination schedules, and this feature can be promoted through the use of the program logo through saleyards, online auction sales or private-treaty transactions.
While market forces will ultimately determine the trend, it is highly likely that price premiums will emerge for appropriately vaccinated sale cattle (see references to similar Canadian programs below).
For cattle buyers, the Immune Ready Guidelines provide reduced risk of disease and sub-optimal performance in purchased cattle, through the assessment of vaccination status of cattle before purchase – and informing the purchaser of any required future treatments and actions.
By purchasing Immune Ready cattle, buyers also stand to gain a biosecurity benefit, by offsetting many of the inherent disease risks that come with introducing new cattle on-farm, or into the feedlot.
National Cattle Health Declaration (NCHD)
Underpinning the Immune Ready program will be the use of a National Cattle Health Declaration (NCHD), a legally-binding statutory declaration which can be accessed when preparing an electronic National Vendor Declaration (eNVD), or sourced separately via the Farm Biosecurity website.
Once cattle are vaccinated according to the Immune Ready Guidelines, the appropriately treated cattle can be bought and sold with the support of the Immune Ready logo, with the buyer able to check their status against the NCHD provided.
The table below was prepared as a guide to Immune Ready vaccination, segmented into three beef cattle classes (breeding bulls, breeding females, and steers/non-breeding females) overlaid with 13 main diseases for which protection may be provided by vaccination. Dairy breeding females are treated as a separate class.
As the table shows, Immune Ready uses a ‘traffic light’ style system for vaccination recommendations – some being mandatory to comply with the program, and others optional, or ‘recommended’. These start with olive green for core vaccines necessary to comply with the program; orange for important diseases in certain areas/production systems (optional); brown for important diseases in certain regions/seasons (optional); and maroon red for unnecessary in this class of stock.
Worth noting, in some categories, multiple companies’ vaccine products may be used, while in others, only one vaccine is available on the market. Five-in-One and Seven-in-One, for example, are produced by all three Australian vaccine manufacturers represented under Immune Ready.
A working committee formed by the Australian Cattle Vets, comprising animal scientists, prominent practising veterinarians, state and federal regulatory personnel and industry representative bodies, worked to develop the recommendations contained in the table.
The group approached risk-based vaccines in two ways: Firstly, whether they are important in a certain production system or sector, and secondly, their geographic relevance (in diseases like tick-fever and BEF, for example).
The program guidelines (click here to access) also contain valuable information about storage, handling and application of the program’s vaccines.
Past attempts at vaccine programs remained in sectoral ‘silos’
Some sectors of the Australian cattle industry have in the past seen isolated vaccination ‘incentive’ programs developed:
- Basic incentive-driven pre-vaccination programs for feeder cattle, specifically covering respiratory diseases, have existed in different forms across the feedlot industry over the past 20 years. They have had mixed success, at best.
- Other vaccination programs have been seen in the seedstock industry, with examples such as the Five Star program, using a logo to identify sale bulls correctly vaccinated and protected against vibriosis, pestivirus, clostridial diseases and leptospirosis. Again, adoption has been patchy.
But Immune Ready is the first attempt by the industry to engage the entire supply chain with vaccination protection, integrated into a broader program.
It is anticipated that the industry will now transition from what remains of older ‘feedlot ready’ style feeder-cattle pre-vaccination programs – some controlled by commercial re-sellers and merchandise outlets – to the new industry-led Immune Ready program.
Protecting the entire cattle supply chain
Australian Cattle Veterinarians President, Dr Tracy Sullivan, said while ever such vaccination programs sat in their respective sector ‘silos’, and were not scalable across the entire cattle production spectrum, they would be less likely to gain real momentum.
“Instead, Immune Ready breaks down the cattle supply segment, from breeding cattle to weaners, backgrounders and grower cattle, and those destined for the feedlot,” she said. “The program is not just focussed on the feedlot industry. There’s plenty of people buying PTIC heifers when restocking after a drought, for example, or buying bulls, who equally stand to benefit.”
“Protecting the entire cattle supply chain, by breaking it down into a series of simple segments and trying to protect the intention of use of each, through appropriate vaccination, is the key to Immune Ready Guidelines.”
“If it is breeding females, then obviously we need to look after reproductive diseases. If it’s feedlot-destined animals, then vibrio does not affect them, because they are not destined for breeding. The program makes significant differentiations within each segment, in terms of vaccination recommendations,” Dr Sullivan said.
National Cattle Health Declaration (NCHD)
An important tool in the Immune Ready process came with the introduction in 2017 of the voluntary National Cattle Health Declaration, she said.
“Prior to that, there was only the National Vendor Declaration, which was specifically designed to accommodate food security matters. It had no ability to allow vendors to communicate information about the health and vaccination status of sale animals, for example,” Dr Sullivan said.
“But the separate NCHD is a way for vendors and buyers to communicate and cooperate through the supply chain on vaccine history among other things, as they are transferring custody.”
For those producers now using eNVDs, there is an option available to select an NCHD as well, if required. Animal Health Australia says roughly ten percent of eNVDs now have a (voluntary) NCHD accompanying them.
“It would be nice to think that that figure could grow to closer to half of all cattle transactions in coming years – given that cattle heading to slaughter obviously do not require a NCHD,” Dr Sullivan said.
Level of disease and biosecurity risk
In terms of disease risk in new cattle arriving on a property, survey statistics suggested that current quarantine protocols practised in the beef industry in cattle transfers were “pretty ordinary,” she said.
“Only about half of all beef producers currently do any form of quarantining or induction of new cattle on arrival whatsoever – with just 30pc drenching or dipping, and 16pc vaccinating,” Dr Sullivan said. “Most people just buy the cattle, get them delivered and get them off the truck and into their final paddock.”
Similar disease risks are associated with saleyards. The illustration at left shows the movement of sheep and cattle into, and out of, seven southern saleyards on a single day. The arrows show extraordinary stock movement patterns – east/west, north/south and interstate – presenting a considerable biosecurity threat for unprotected stock.
“The problem Immune Ready is trying to address here is that there is evidence of low levels of risk-management in livestock trade markets – but the various stakeholders are creating big animal health risk issues, and potentially, big transfers of disease around Australia,” Dr Sullivan said.
The challenge behind the Immune Ready Guidelines was to create and launch an initiative aimed at minimising the risks associated with producing and trading animals, while being scalable across different market segments, she said.
An obvious question in the launch of the Immune Ready program is, what is going to motivate cattle producers to get involved?
The simplistic conclusion likely to be drawn by some stakeholders not familiar with the program is that it is simply an “attempt by animal heath companies to sell more product.”
The response by the program developers has been to seek to transition ‘ownership’ of the program away from the vaccine manufacturers to the industry itself, based on the program’s methodology and compelling merit, in terms of productivity impact.
The industry bodies which have chosen to advocate for the program (AVA, ACV, CCA, ALFA, MLA and AHA and DA, all mentioned above) have core agendas around biosecurity, animal welfare, minimising disease risk and optimising efficiency and production in an increasingly competitive global beef landscape.
Without exception, all see the program as an opportunity to provide leadership in this space, and have vigorously endorsed the project – including the process and the formation and structure of the guidelines.
The Immune Ready guidelines can act as a base for individual cattle herd managers and enterprises to tailor vaccination protocols as part of complete biosecurity plans, with their local veterinarian bringing regional disease knowledge.
Overseas, trading cattle backed by Canada’s own ‘vaccine-protected’ program already attract substantial price premiums in the market.
The process for producers to qualify their cattle for the Immune Ready Guidelines logo starts with vaccinating their livestock according to the relevant segment of the program guidelines (see first table above).
They will then have the right to access the Immune Ready logo, which can be used in a sale catalogue, on the rail of a saleyards pen, in an AuctionsPlus listing, or indeed in a digital advertisement on Beef Central promoting a line of weaners, feeder or breeder cattle, or herd bulls for sale.
Upcoming spring bull sale ads appearing on Beef Central will include some of the first uses of the new Immune Ready logo. Later, its likely to emerge that entire ‘feature’ weaner sale yardings, for example, may carry the Immune Ready identity, as an indicator of high performance potential.
The only condition on using the logos is the provision of a National Cattle Health Declaration at time of sale, as a means of verifying that the appropriate vaccination program has been followed by the vendor, and the claim is true and accurate.
The logo itself is likely to gain ‘brand identity’ as the program gains momentum, and both buyers and vendors understand and recognise the implications of trading ‘Immune Ready’ cattle.
The logo and what it stands for promise to provide an important point-of-difference for buyers seeking consistent superior performance, in what is largely a commoditised market for store and stud cattle.
If the Immune Ready program can be made to work effectively in the cattle industry, the program may well be rolled-out into sheep as well.
- Click this link to access the Immune Ready program website launched yesterday, providing a detailed explanation about the program, how it functions and how to participate. The link will also be included in a follow-up article on Beef Central covering industry reaction to this week’s launch of the Immune Ready program.