Vaccine guilt - should we vaccinate our cattle?

by Farmer Liz
If you've had kids, you've probably already gone through plenty of vaccine guilt, is the vaccine doing more harm than good?  Should you vaccinate or shouldn't you? etc.

Well we don't have kids, but believe me, the livestock vaccine guilt is just as bad (for me anyway).  For cattle there are two main vaccinations, 5-in-1 and 7-in-1 (more here).  The first vaccinates against 5 different Clostridium bacteria that cause a range of diseases in cattle.  The second is the same, but also includes vaccinations for 2 Leptosporidium bacteria, which are harmful to both cattle and humans.  The second one is more than twice the price of the first one.  In organic farming you are allowed to vaccinate against diseases which are common in your area.  Everyone we know uses 7-in-one on all their calves, but is it really necessary?  Its impossible to find out, most of the information comes from the vaccination manufacturers, and you can bet how much I trust what they have to say!  Lately they have even been running a TV ad warning of the dangers of "Lepto" infections in humans, with the guilt-trip about "who would look after your animals if you got sick from Lepto?", obviously too many people are skimping and only getting the cheaper 5-in-1, so they trying to boost sales.  The manufactures recommend 6 monthly booster doses for both vaccines.  This is not only expensive, but I worry whether it will be doing more harm than good for our cattle.

So now we have vaccine guilt.  What if we choose not to vaccinate and the calves get sick?  Not to mention the economic loss, we do actually care about the wellbeing of our animals and would feel terrible if they died as a result of our bad management decisions.  But what if we are compromising their immune system by giving them the vaccine?

From everything I've read about human and animal health over the past couple of years, I believe that we are intrinsically healthy and able to resist disease unless we are stressed.  In the case of cattle, the bacteria that we are supposed to vaccinate against is naturally present in soil and in healthy animals, and will only cause infection in an animal with a compromised immune system (which is a bit different to human vaccines for infectious viruses, which tend to be spread by sick people, rather than present all the time in the environment).  In the case of cattle, this could be due to lack of minerals, extremes of climate, hunger or lack of access to fresh water.  Castration, tagging, weaning and branding are also stressful times for calves.  We have decided to give the male calves 5-in-1 to help them to get through castration, but we don't see the need to vaccinate all the animals every year.  I have contacted some organic farmers in the area and they told me that they don't vaccinate at all.  I would feel better about that if we were able to keep a closer (daily) watch on the cattle, so that will be the aim in the future.

And then to complicate things even further, I find out that it is recommended for farmers to have a vaccine against "Q Fever", so now we need to decide if we will get that for ourselves.....

It makes me wonder how many people are blindly following the recommendations of vaccine manufacturers, and how much money the beef industry is wasting each year!  Do you vaccinate your cattle?  When and why?

This post is linked to farm girl blog fest 4 on Fresh Eggs Daily.

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