Seven Suggestions to Set Calves Up for Top Performance

Hereford calf

In the cow/calf business, fall profits depend heavily on decisions producers make in the spring for both cows and calves. Keeping calves healthy and prepared for top marketing programs, as well as getting cows rebred, are universal keys to ranching success. Here are seven springtime management suggestions from Kevin Hill, D.V.M, Technical Services Manager at Merck Animal Health, that will provide reproductive protection through breeding and gestation, plus build strong calf immunity to maximize their growth potential and be immunologically prepared to transition to the feedlot in the fall.


Work with your veterinarian to build a health protocol specific to your herd. Your veterinarian is the best resource you have to identify the pathogens and disease challenges that are most important in your area. Vaccinations for cows should be focused on optimizing conception and preventing abortion, while prevention of respiratory disease is the most important element of calf vaccinations.


Vaccinate cows in the spring whenever possible. Five to eight weeks before breeding is the ideal time to vaccinate cows for maximum reproductive protection. The focus is to protect against reproductive pathogens that can interfere with conception or trigger abortions. Administering a combination vaccine, such as Vista® 5 VL5 SQ, can accomplish this in one dose. And don’t forget to include trichomoniasis testing for bulls in your health protocol. There are no vaccines for trichomoniasis, so testing is the best option available.


Vaccinate calves for respiratory protection with a target on fall marketing health programs. Spring is often our first opportunity to prime the calf’s immune system, so they rapidly respond to weaning vaccinations. The viruses of concern that need to be included in a vaccination program are Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV). The most prominent players for bacterial pneumonia are Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida. Look for combination vaccines, such as Vista Once SQ, that address all the important respiratory viruses and both bacteria. For more information about calf preconditioning protocols, visit


Use intranasal vaccines in calves younger than 5 months of age. Intranasal vaccines, such as Nasalgen® IP and Once PMH® IN, stimulate a strong immune response directly on mucosal surfaces in the nose – the major route of respiratory infection in cattle. Intranasal vaccines also are less stressful on the young calf than vaccines given under the skin and escape interference from maternal antibodies in colostrum. Bovilis® Coronavirus is the newest intranasal vaccine that can be used in newborns to reduce scours caused by the bovine coronavirus.


Eliminate internal parasites before turnout. There’s no shortage of evidence that shows if parasites are effectively eliminated, the cow will eat more, milk better and produce a heavier calf. Because of documented parasite resistance to ivermectin products, the most effective strategy to control internal parasites should include fenbendazole, the active ingredient in Safe-Guard®. Using Safe-Guard with an ivermectin pouron for external parasites will achieve a near 100% parasite kill and slow the development of resistance.¹ Consult with your veterinarian to assist with the diagnosis, treatment and control strategies for internal parasites.


Control pinkeye with vaccination and management. Because pinkeye is a significant health problem in many parts of the country, a combination of vaccination and fly control is recommended for complete control. Fly tags in cows and calves can be very helpful in areas with heavy fly pressure.²


Consider implanting all calves at branding. Implanting a calf will add 20 to 25 pounds to the weaning weight and an extra $40 in revenue for just a $1.25-per-head investment.³ Unless a producer has a solid contract for a “natural” program that guarantees a premium of $40 or more, implants should be part of his spring turnout program for all calves older than 1 month of age. After you have taken the steps to ensure optimal calf health, be sure to document the products and practices you have used. A signed certificate, especially one signed by your veterinarian, will add value to your calves. Documentation should be comprised of vaccination, parasite control and other treatments, including the product, what it’s for and the date applied. Print a copy to accompany the calves when they go to market. Buyers pay $15 to $35 more per head for calves with that kind of documented health history.4

(1) Yazwinski, T. A., Tucker, C. A., Powell, J., Jones, L. and Wray, E. Considerations for control of helminths in stocker cattle. The Bovine Practitioner, Vol. 47, No. 2.

(2) Derouen, S. M., Foil, L. D., Knox, J. W. and Turpin, J. M. Horn fly (diptera: muscidae) control and weight gains of yearling beef cattle. Journal of Economic Entomology. Vol. 88, Issue 3; pp. 666-668.

(3) Selk, G. (1997) Implants for Suckling Steer and Heifer Calves and Potential Replacement Heifers. Proceedings: Impact of Implants on Performance and Carcass Value of Beef Cattle. Oklahoma State University, P-957. Pg 40.

(4) Superior Livestock Sale data report 2018.

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