FAQ: Should we vaccinate our animals and if so, what ones? Do you vaccinate?
The only vaccine we routinely give is brucellosis (bangs) because we often sell animals out of state and therefore they must be bangs vaccinated. It’s a transport issue rather than a health issue. (Like how dogs and cats routinely are rabies vaccinated.)
We have a closed herd. We also live in a part of the world that has four seasons and long winter, so pathogens don’t have a chance to overpopulate as much as they would in other climates. That plus management techniques (like not raising too many calves in the same spot, rotational grazing, etc.) keep bacteria and parasites better in control.
It wouldn’t hurt for you to ask around and make sure there’s nothing in your area in particular that you should vaccinate for. For example, when we had our cows in Pennsylvania, rabies in cattle was an issue and we considered vaccinating them then. Or if you live in a wet climate or one where weather frequently changes from wet/muddy to hot to cold extremes, then pneumonia-related vaccines might be appropriate.
The top dairy disease I worry about (Johnes, BLV, neospora, etc.) are not ones that are routinely vaccinated for. As far as I know, there is no BLV or neospora vaccine in use in the U.S. and the Johnes vaccine is not used regularly (it’s reserved only for things like when Tillamook had a Johnes problem and the whole county worked together to eradicate it. I don’t believe they vaccinate anymore, it was a short term deal to significantly reduce the incidence of disease. Johnes leaves a huge lump on the neck of the cow where the vaccine is given, like a football sized lump. They also always test positive thereafter, so need good records to go with the cow to verify she’s vaccinated rather than a carrier.
Other vaccines cover what can be mostly managed on farm. For example, why vaccinate for shipping fever if you have a closed herd and calves are slowly transitioned in feed stages (like from milk to hay, hay to grain, etc.). I don’t worry about coccidiosis because we raise healthy animals and rotate land use and provide rest periods.
Other diseases like BVD or bluetongue aren’t real common in dairy animals. I think one big reason why is because when milking dairy cows, water quality is a huge concern (good tasting water = good tasting milk) so dairy cow water is generally fresh, in a trough rather than wild sources of water (stream, pond, etc.), and they’re more likely to be fed in bunks, given proper minerals for health, etc. to provide good immunity along with low chance of contagion.