Branding / Pre-Breeding … Calf and Cow Management Activities to Consider

Advanced planning with your veterinarian can make the future of your calves and cow herd look even brighter.  Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.
Advanced planning with your veterinarian can make the future of your calves and cow herd look even brighter. Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.

By Dee Griffin, UNL-Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center (DGriffin2@UNL.EDU) and Richard Randle, Nebraska Extension Beef Veterinarian (RRandle2@UNL.EDU)

Branding season has typically been about managing calves; identifying, castration, dehorning, and black leg shots. In this BeefWatch article we would like for you to considered visiting with your veterinarian about adding a few more management activities to the list.

Let’s start with the cow … THE MOST IMPORTANT INFLUENCERS OF HEALTH IN A CALF IS BEING BORN TO A HEALTHY MOTHER! It starts before she is bred. We will start this article at PRE-BREEDING and not back into a detailed discussion of heifer/cow management. As you are gathering calves for branding, it is a perfect opportunity to influence the immunity of all your calves’ mothers.

The list of vaccines and procedures to consider visiting with your veterinarian about include:
• Vibrio in oil … this is a vaccine that has short immunity and must be given within 60 days of breeding.
• Lepto … this is a common vaccine included with many vibrio vaccines.
• IBR … this is a disease many of us think most often about being associated with respiratory disease, but it affects the cow’s reproductive tract and in the worst case, causes abortion. Ask your veterinarian about using a modified live virus (MLV) vaccine. Unless indicated on the vaccine label, using a MLV IBR vaccine is not recommended in pregnant cows. BUT this is pre-breeding and none of the mothers of the calves you are gathering at branding are pregnant, so a MLV IBR vaccine is perfectly acceptable and most veterinarians consider the immunity stimulated by a MLV to be superior to the immunity stimulated by a killed vaccine.
• BVD … this is another serious disease you should discuss with your veterinarian. If your cows have not been BVD-PI (Persistently Infected) tested, they should be and the sooner the better. It requires an ear notch sample to be submitted to the UNL Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. Your veterinarian can help you with the details. Visit with your veterinarian about using a MLV BVD vaccine. The discussion above about MLV vaccines and pregnancy applies to BVD vaccines as well.
• BRSV and PI3 are not serious diseases of adult cattle but your veterinarian may want you to booster their immunity in hopes it may lessen the impact of “Summer Pneumonia” in your calves. A MLV vaccine for these diseases is very safe, including the use in and around pregnant cows.
• The recommendations for controlling or managing internal parasites is being reconsidered and researched by veterinarians. While we once wanted all internal parasites out of our cattle, today parasite experts tell us it may be best to have a low level of internal parasites in our cow herds. They call this “refugia” and this is a low level of parasites that have not been exposed to dewormers and therefore have no resistance to dewormers. We will discuss this in more detail in a future BeefWatch article, but for now, perhaps consider deworming only the thin cows pre-breeding when you gather the calves at branding.

Now for the calves … visit with your veterinarian about:
• Branding, identification, dehorning, and castration have long been key activities at branding time. In a previous BeefWatch article (, the use of Meloxicam was discussed to help mitigate the pain associated with branding, castration, and dehorning. Meloxicam is a prescription medication that has a long half-life so one dose will provide the longest pain relief of any medication we know of in cattle. The dose is just three aspirin size tablets per CWT and in the previous BeefWatch article a home-made dosing device was described. Visit with your veterinarian about adding Meloxicam to your branding schedule.
• Black leg (Clostridial vaccine) is another key activity at branding time. Not all vaccines are created equal so visit with your vet about acquiring a high quality product. BUT, your handling of vaccine is just as important. NEVER, let a vaccine freeze! NEVER shake a “bacterin” (killed bacterial vaccine) because shaking can cause some of the bacterial cells to break and release additional endotoxin that can cause a severe, sometimes deadly, vaccine reaction. Instead of shaking, rotate the bottle back and forth to mix a bacterin that has a layer of cells settled to the bottom of the vaccine bottle. It takes more time but the outcome could be worth the effort.
• BVD-PI testing all the heifers born from the first heat cycle. These are most likely to be the biggest heifer calves you will work at branding, and will most likely be the group of calves from which you select your replacement heifers. BVD-PI testing these calves will pave the way to insure you don’t keep any BVD-PI positive replacement heifers.
• IBR, BVD, PI3, and BRSV MLV vaccine… because it is pre-breeding and none of these calves’ mothers are pregnant, there is no danger to the cows from using MLV vaccines on your calves. At worst, a MLV IBR may affect the first heat cycle on a few cows, but the improved immunity produced by a MLV vaccine compared to a Killed virus vaccine should be well worth considering. Again, visit with your veterinarian, but discuss selecting a high quality IBR, BVD, PI3, and BRSV MLV vaccine to give to your calves at branding.
• Bacterial pneumonia vaccines… these vaccines have never been as effective as we need, but there are a few that have research data that suggests they may be worth considering. These include Once PMH® (either SQ or IN), Presponse HM®, and Pulmo-Guard PH-M®. These vaccines may aid in lessening the Summer Pneumonia issues in your herd and will be the first step in improving the calves’ bacterial immunity when pre-weaning vaccines are considered.
• Implants … not included as often as they should be. A Ralgrow® or Synovex-C® will increase your weaning weight about 5% … if you are not considering implants you are leaving a lot of money on the table. Follow label directions which includes using in calves over 45 days of age and to never implant replacement bull calves.
• One last comment, when you do your pre-breeding bull breeding soundness and Trichomoniasis testing, if you haven’t previously, BVD-PI test your bulls. You don’t want a disease shedding bull out with your herd.

Branding time always reminds us of a hopeful future. Advanced planning with your veterinarian can make the future of your calves and cow herd look even brighter.