Traditionally, many vaccination protocols for breeding animals are concentrated around February and March.

This is obviously a very busy time for farmers with cows to be calved, calves to be fed and the milking routine is still not completely bedded in, as every day there are fresh cows and heifers to be introduced into the parlour.

This is an inconvenient time for the farmer to carry out these important protocols and it is not ideal for the cow either.

Negative energy balance

The cow’s immune system is under pressure in the spring.

Freshly calved cows struggle to eat enough to account for the milk they are producing (1). This is known as negative energy balance and is visible to farmers as a drop in body condition score (BCS).

Farmers strive to reduce this, but it inevitably occurs, and it is recognised that it can compromise the immune system of the cow, resulting in a decrease in their ability to respond to an infectious disease or vaccination (2).

Nearly all cows experience some degree of immune suppression during the two to three weeks before and after calving (3). In addition, many cows also suffer from a peri-parturient disease. Examples would include milk fever, mastitis, retained foetal membranes, metritis, ketosis and slipped stomachs.

Research has shown that up to 44% of cows are deemed unhealthy in their first 60 days in milk (4). Further research has shown that vaccines against viral reproductive pathogens may not be as effective in the postpartum period (5).

Rethink vaccination time

Vaccination in early lactation is unlikely to produce an optimal immune response.

Perhaps now is the time to rethink when cows are vaccinated. The traditional spring time is not ideal for either the freshly calved cow nor for the hard-pressed farmer.

Some vaccines now offer 12 months’ protection without any seasonal restrictions. These vaccines could be used during the winter after cows have been dried off.

December is a quieter time on the farm, because although cows still need to be fed, milking has stopped and there are no newborn calves nor fresh cows to worry about. At this time the cows are also healthy and in metabolic stability and their body condition is frequently improving, so an optimal vaccination response can be expected.

Both the Rispoval® Yearly IBR Vaccination Programme and Spirovac® for lepto control could be given in December instead.

Animals that have not previously been vaccinated for IBR need to receive a single dose of Rispoval IBR Marker Live into the muscle followed up to six months later with Rispoval IBR Marker Inactivated under the skin.

Once the herd is on the system it is very easy to operate as all animals (weanlings, heifers, cows and the bull) receive an annual dose of Rispoval IBR Marker Inactivated under the skin in December and the calves just need to get a single injection of Rispoval IBR Marker Live into the muscle in July or August, when they will all be over three months-of-age and before they are housed.

Live IBR vaccines are best used in naïve animals (e.g. calves over three months-of-age) to protect them from clinical disease.

Live vaccines work rapidly and stimulate immunity most similarly to natural infection. This is because the virus is live (but altered to make it safe) so it can replicate in the body and therefore the body responds to it most similarly to the way it would to infection.

Live vaccines vs. inactivated vaccines

Studies have found that live vaccines are better at protecting naïve animals from clinical disease compared to inactivated ones (6).

Inactivated IBR vaccines are best used in latently infected animals (e.g. adult dairy cows) to stop or reduce viral shedding.

Inactivated vaccines stimulate immunity in a slightly different way to the live vaccines and have been found to be better at reducing viral shedding in animals which have previously been infected and are carrying the virus (latently infected animals) (7).

In a dairy herd with a high bulk milk antibody level, which suggests that a high proportion of the milking cows are already infected, use of an inactivated vaccine can better help to reduce the amount of virus these cows shed when under stress. This reduces the risk to any uninfected animals, or heifers entering the herd.

The combination of a live and inactivated vaccine stimulates the immune response in different ways, resulting in a more complete immune response which provides 12-months protection from a single booster dose given annually.

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Maiden heifers have for many years been vaccinated for lepto in mid-February and mid-March. If Spirovac is used this could be pulled back to receiving their first and second injections in the winter when all the cows and pregnant heifers are being vaccinated.

So now is the time to plan to reduce the workload in the busy spring and introduce some labour-saving solutions to make life easier and more effective for both man and beast.

Consider a Rispoval Yearly IBR Programme that is designed and proven to be effective and convenient when used in December. Spirovac is a yearly lepto vaccine that has no seasonal restrictions and the booster can be given within 12 months at any time of year and not just during the busy spring period.

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Product and company details

Rispoval® IBR Marker Live contains bovine herpes virus type 1 (BHV-1), strain Difivac (gE-negative), modified live (attenuated) virus. Legal Status: POM(E).

Rispoval® IBR Marker Inactivated contains bovine herpes virus type 1 (BoHV-1), strain Difivac (gE-negative) Legal Status: POM(E).

Spirovac® contains Inactivated Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar Hardjo. Legal status: LM.

For further information please contact Zoetis, 2nd Floor, Building 10, Cherrywood Business Park, Loughlinstown, Co. Dublin on: 01-2569800; or at:

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  1. Ryan E (2017) Herd health challenges in springtime. Veterinary Ireland Journal Volume 7 Number 3 p123.
  2. Corbett R (2013) Preserve and protect transition cow immunity. Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council Newsletter July 1, 2013, vol 8 issue 3.
  3. Goff JP. Transition Cow Immune Function and Interaction with Metabolic Diseases, in Proceedings, Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference, April 22-23, 2008.
  4. Santos JEP, Bisinotto RS, Ribeiro ES, Lima FS, Greco LF, Staples CR and Thatcher WW (2010). Applying nutrition and physiology to improve reproduction in dairy cattle. Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.
  5. Walz PH, Montgomery T, Passler T, Riddell KP, Braden TD, Zhang Y, Gallik PK, Zuidhof S (2015). Comparison of reproductive performance of primiparous dairy cattle following revaccination with either modified live or killed multivalent viral vaccines in early lactation. Journal of Dairy Science 98:8753-8763.
  6. Bosch, J.C., M.J. Kaashoek, A.H. Kroese, J.T. van Oirschot (1996). An attenuated bovine herpes virus 1 marker vaccine induces better than two inactivated marker vaccines. Vet. Microbiol., 52: 223-234.
  7. Bosch J.C., Kaashoek M.J., van Oirschot J.T. (1997). Inactivated bovine herpesvirus 1 marker vaccines are more efficacious in reducing virus excretion after reactivation than a live marker vaccine. Vaccine 15:1512-1517.