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Act now to save money this winter

Soon suckler calves will be weaned, castrated, sold, bought, and housed.These are all stressors on animals which weakens their immune system, and viruses already present could take hold. The main viruses of concern are respiratory - IBR, RSV and PI3. Martina Harrington, Beef Specialist has the facts

There’s the horror story outbreak of pneumonia where cattle are a bit off their feed which leads to snotty noses, ears down, high temperatures and fast breathing. This one requires the vet and a lot of stress and hardship on both man and beast getting cattle in, injecting them, etc. Or you could have the less obvious situation where the virus is moving through your animals but the symptoms are not as noticeable. Both are reducing the performance of the herd which is a cost to the system, not something an enterprise with an already tight margin can take.

Teagasc and AHI estimate that 75% of Irish cattle farms have some level of IBR. So do we need to look at viruses again?

So what are viruses?

Viruses are tiny microscopic parasites, so tiny they do not have the necessary “equipment” themselves to grow and reproduce. So like magpies, they invade another cell and use its “equipment” to grow and reproduce, often causing disease.  Like corona virus, it can spread from animal to animal in bodily fluid, through breathing, coughing or by contact with infected clothes or equipment.

Treatment – the only cure is prevention!

There are no cures or quick fixes with viruses. You cannot go in with antibiotics or a dose to solve the problem. Think of it like the flu, you can only manage the symptoms.  The only form of defence is prevention which is in the form of a suitable vaccination programme, and the proper environment in the shed. This is where good management come in.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease or part of the germ, but they have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick.

How do they work?

Once given, a vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies. So when you come in contact with the actual virus these antibodies know what it is and act fast to attack it and stop you from getting sick.  It takes time for immunity to build and different vaccines have different requirements, so it is critical to put a plan in place to ensure each animal has adequate immunity before castration/weaning/housing.  

Vaccination programmes – your insurance policy

There are a number of different vaccines out there for IBR, RSV and PI3. Some are live, some are dead. They can be given intranasal (quicker on set of immunity), intramuscular or subcutaneously. Then there are different programmes. Any vaccination programme will be dependent on what viruses are present, how prevalent they are and the products being used, so each farm will be different. For a vaccine to work properly, you must follow the vaccination programme for the product being used, and allow for the time required for the onset of immunity.


Vaccinating weanings for IBR, RSV and PI3, using injectables, where they were not vaccinated as calves. They should start their vaccination programme a month before weaning (the stress period) and two months before housing.

RSV & PI3- Give the first shot on the 1st of October, give the booster shot 4 weeks later at weaning (29th October). The full onset of immunity will be 2-3 weeks later and last approximately 6 months. Give the IBR vaccine at weaning. Now these animals will have immunity built up before housing and the immunity will last through out the housing period.

Shot 1

October 1st

Shot 2

October 29th

IBR vaccination

October 29th (opposite side of the neck)


November 15th .

If these weanlings were vaccinated as calves they should be given their booster shot a month before weaning/castration. If you are housing sooner and don’t have enough time to use the injectable you can use an intranasal for RSV & Pi3, as the onset of immunity ranges from 5-10 days. The IBR injection takes 21 days for the full onset of immunity. These are only a few examples of combinations of vaccination programmes. There are many more. Always consult with your vet before taking on a vaccination programme.

Tip- With so many products available and different combinations of vaccines, a vaccination calendar is extremely useful and can be drawn up with your vet.

Handling vaccines:

Vaccines are very delicate and need to be handled with care. They should be:

  • Purchased just before use.
  • Brought straight home from the vet’s office and refrigerated. They cannot be left in the car or jeep for the day as the heat and light will deactivate them.
  • The fridge should be between 2-8oC
  • Tip Store vaccines in the fridge door. Don’t store in the back of the fridge as the vaccine may freeze and is then deactivated
  • Used as per the manufacturer instructions i.e. if they have to be mixed they are mixed just before use etc.
  • Use the proper route of administration – Intramuscular (IM) Intranasal (IM) or Subcutaneously (SC)
  • Only vaccinate healthy animals
  • Gather enough animals to use all the vaccine in the vial at the same time. The shelf live once opened is very short e.g. 10 hours.
  • Always use a clean needle

If these protocols are not followed, then the vaccine may not work.

So should you vaccinate on your farm?

It’s like looking at the flu vaccine; you have to assess the risk. If I am 22, healthy as a horse and mixing with other 22 year olds, I’d say I should be fine. If I am 83, with a heart condition and not in the best of health, I think I would get the vaccine. Put that in a farming context, if you have a closed herd, are not highly stocked, have good nutrition & housing and very little stress in animals then you will “probably” be okay. You still need to be very vigilant for any signs of respiratory disease. If you buy in cattle, have a high stocking rate with lots of cattle in sheds, even with good nutrition and ventilation, you need to consider it. The vaccine is like an insurance policy.


For the example above, a 2 shot vaccine for RSV & PI3, and a one shot IBR vaccine costs ~ €14 per animal (depending on pack size etc.) For 40 animals that’s €560. If those same animals were infected and forfeited even 0.1kgs per hd per day over a 150 day winter that is 40 x 0.1 x 150 = 600kgs @ say €1.80 per Kg = €1,080. That is not to mention if you had an outbreak and lost animals, and had all the hardship and stress of treating them.

Word of Caution

Vaccination is not a silver bullet for all things respiratory. You must also minimise stress, have good nutrition and excellent conditions in your sheds.  A good shed for cattle is one that is

  • Well ventilated
  • Draft free
  • Has enough lying area for each animal housed
  • Has enough feed space for the type of feeding
  • Has access to plenty fresh clean drinking water
  • Has a dry lie.

For further information check out www.teagasc.ie and www.animalhealthireland.ie