Ten-in-one vaccine nipped sudden deaths in the bud
When it comes to stopping sudden death losses in cattle, there’s only one thing that puzzles Lumsden farmer Paul Waller. Why, he asks, don’t more farmers understand there’s a very simple way to help prevent the losses.
Paul runs sheep, beef and deer on about 400 hectares of mainly flat and rolling country with some tussock on the higher slopes. The sheep comprise 200 of the easy-care Wiltshire breed “to tidy up around the sheds and give us some mutton”.
With deer he’s pulled back from breeding and finishing venison after that market started to struggle with falling returns. His focus with deer is now on velvet antler mainly from about 400 elk bulls, plus some red deer. He also supplies a few trophy animals to game estates. The velvet market has been solid in recent seasons with good returns.
But this story is about cattle and, right now, returns from beef are humming along nicely. Paul buys in weaners and winters about 200 beef cattle each year. Some are fattened and others sold as forward stores for the AngusPure® brand. They fit well in his farm system, with the animals wintered on crop for around 100 days, usually swedes.
When you’re finishing cattle there’s a fair bit of value walking around on each set of legs and Paul admits he had previously been a bit casual about preventing losses from sudden deaths caused by clostridial disease, simply because he wasn’t seeing any. Then he did lose a couple so tried using a five-in-one clostridial vaccine. That had no effect on further losses, however.
What really got his attention was the loss of nearly 30 young cattle out of 300 in one season while they were on swedes and after only one of their two five-in-one shots. This happened about 16 years ago.
Despite the fact they hadn’t received a full vaccination programme (e.g. sensitiser and booster) it didn’t appear that they were being killed by one of the five “traditional” clostridial organisms covered by a five-in-one vaccine. The deaths were very sudden: “I even found an animal that had dropped dead over an electric fence,” Paul says.
Clostridial deaths are also frustratingly difficult to diagnose. If a fresh sample can’t be taken within a few hours of death, animal health labs often can’t give a definitive diagnosis. But according to Paul there were tell-tale signs. “There was no sign of the white froth you get from tetanus or red froth you see with blood poisoning. These animals blew up extremely quickly, even overnight in winter.”
Paul says the animals had some roughage in their gut along with swede, so acidosis and bloat were unlikely. All signs were pointing to clostridial disease as the cause and almost certainly one of the two troublemaker organisms that aren’t covered by five-in-one vaccine: Clostridium perfringens Type A or C. sordellii. He recalls it was a wet winter and despite having some hay to balance the rich swede diet, he believes the diet and conditions probably tipped the balance, creating ideal conditions for the organism.
A conversation with a friend and farming colleague quickly led him to a possible solution: clostridial vaccination with Covexin®10. “As soon as we started using the ten-in-one vaccine the sudden deaths stopped almost completely. We also make sure they have a proper balance of hay and swede in their diet.”
Ever since then he’s put in place a regular two-shot programme of vaccination for incoming calves with Covexin 10. The 4–6 week interval between the shots fits in well with management of the young stock, which are now fully vaccinated by the time they go onto a winter crop in May.
Paul is also well aware that you can never drop your guard. “One year I missed the second shot with a mob of 12 that came in later than the rest. I then lost one of them from sudden death.” He’s now fastidious about keeping his animals protected.
Although the ten-in-one vaccine is a little more expensive than a five-in-one, Paul is adamant that it more than pays for itself.
“One dead animal costs you over a thousand dollars. That would buy you an awful lot of vaccine!”
He’s frustrated that more people don’t recognise the signs and see the benefits of the better protection from a ten-in-one vaccine like Covexin 10. He does all he can to spread the word through his own networks that it’s a cost-effective way to prevent losses in any commercial beef finishing setting.