Why vaccines are so important for your animals

Many medications are available for treating diseases and other problems, such as worms, in livestock. But by far the most important treatment you can give your animals is vaccinations against the diseases that occur in your area. Shane Brody explains why vaccines are different to other medicines, and why they are so effective.

Why vaccines are so important for your animals
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I receive many phone calls from communal farmers requesting help with sheep, goats or cattle that are ‘mysteriously dying’. My first question is: were the dead animals vaccinated beforehand?

The answer is often “Yes”. But when I ask a few more questions, I’m told that the livestock were ‘vaccinated’ with Ivermax, Ecomectin or some other parasiticide.

While these are indeed important medicines that can be used to treat worms, mites or sheep scab, they are not vaccines!

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What is a vaccine?
In very simple terms, a vaccine contains parts of the disease itself (albeit rendered harmless), and this enables the body to develop an immune response. Put another way, the vaccine helps the body to produce antibodies ‘trained’ to identify a pathogen and act against it.

A vaccine will not work as effectively if an animal is thin and hungry, or has a high parasite burden, as these problems compromise its immune system. It is therefore important to
ensure that your livestock are well fed and free of ectoparasites and internal worms. (I have often written about the need for communities to conserve grazing so as to insure a good livestock diet.)

Work together as a community
Farmers who run livestock on communal rangelands need to work together to vaccinate and treat their animals, because if only a few farmers have vaccinated and dewormed their animals, untreated animals will act as a reservoir for parasites and livestock diseases in the area, and the problems will continue.

If you and other livestock owners in your community pool your money to buy medicines, you will be able to obtain bigger discounts. Talk to your local veterinary medicine supplier about helping you set up a co-op buying scheme. Many suppliers are keen to assist customers in this way.

If after vaccinating and deworming animals are still falling ill and dying, take a fresh carcass to your local private or state veterinarian for a necropsy, as the problem could be something like bluetongue or internal parasite resistance to the products that your community is using.

Follow feed mix instructions
If you are mixing your own livestock feeds using concentrates manufactured by feed companies, be sure to follow their mixing instructions carefully, because an overload of certain nutritional elements can lead to toxicity.

For example, if you are instructed to use a certain quantity of maize in a diet, stick to this, as too much maize can result in gastric problems and diarrhoea which can, in turn, lead to dehydration and death.

The same goes for adding salt to diets. Too much salt can cause animals to go off their feed and drink an excess of water. These animals can slowly become emaciated, and may even die from salt poisoning.

Supplements also come with instructions, as they have undergone scientific evaluation. It is equally important to follow these instructions.

Getting the doses right
Make sure that you administer not only the right medication for the disease or parasite, but also the right dose. In addition, be aware that antibiotics come in long-acting and fast-acting formulations.

Many farmers fail to administer follow-up treatments for antibiotics. Doing so can result in the disease rebounding and building up immunity to the medication. Administer the follow-up treatments for antibiotics as instructed.

The quantity and timing of the doses are also important; once again, read and follow the instructions carefully. Administering too little medication can be ineffective, while giving too much can be fatal to the animal.

Finally, a farming community should have a dedicated quarantine area and biosecurity management protocols. If a mystery disease breaks out or a parasite proliferates, infected animals can then be properly separated from healthy animals to prevent the risk of disease or parasite transmission.

Shane Brody is involved in an outreach programme aimed at transferring skills to communal farmers.