Your Best Shot at Immunity: How trace mineral nutrition supports vaccination protocols to optimize herd health

Kevin Cain, DVM

Stress is inevitable in any cattle operation and greatly impacts calf health and performance. Handling, weaning, transportation, and other prolonged periods of stress are often unavoidable and can all have a negative impact on immune function. Lower immunity can lead to illness, disease spread and ultimately, performance losses. To combat the inevitable challenges, producers can mitigate risks with preventative herd health protocols. Vaccination and trace mineral nutrition are key components to a preventative health program. Both are important because they have a symbiotic relationship in maintaining healthy immune function and animal performance.

Importance of Vaccination

Vaccination is a valuable tool for preventing infectious diseases in cattle. Working with a vet to assess herd health management procedures and associated pathogen risks is the first step to develop a vaccine protocol. Considering a branding and pre-conditioning program may also be a solution to prime the immune system so that weaning boosters generate a memory response, providing better pathogen protection. When it comes to vaccination protocols, it is important to follow established guidelines for timing and administration. Many vaccines require booster shots to be effective, so it is important to work with a veterinarian to develop a schedule that ensures that all animals receive the necessary vaccinations at the appropriate times.

When given to the animal, vaccinations stimulate the immune system to produce specific antibodies targeted to combat disease-causing viruses or bacteria. After vaccination, a healthy immune response should translate to a memory of those specific pathogens. This memory helps animals mount a more rapid response if the animal is exposed to pathogens it has been vaccinated against, helping avoid infection and clinical signs of illness. However, there is no 100% guarantee every animal will respond the same to a vaccine.

Trace Mineral Nutrition

Most times, the immune response to vaccination can be impaired in animals with suboptimal mineral status. While vaccination is critical to help protect against infectious disease, it is equally as important to also support the calf’s immune system through adequate trace mineral nutrition to ensure they will respond properly to vaccination.

Essential trace minerals, such as copper, zinc, manganese, and selenium are essential components of many enzymes and proteins that are involved in immune function. These trace minerals are necessary to produce antibodies, cytokines, and other immune system components that are critical for an effective immune response to vaccination.

While these minerals are present in many common feedstuffs, they may not always be available in sufficient quantities or in forms that can be easily absorbed by the animal. Particularly during periods of stress and weaning, consumption of oral products may be delayed or may not provide adequate levels. A university study showed that animals that were bunk broke and on a total mixed ration with oral supplements at 150% NRC requirements, took 28 to 42 days to achieve similar trace mineral levels as compared to an injectable product.

Injectable trace mineral products provide a readily available source of these essential trace minerals to cattle. These products are administered subcutaneously and absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream within 8-10 hours, providing a quick boost to the animal’s trace mineral status at critical times of stress and transition and a complete avoidance from nutritional antagonists that may be present in the rumen. Since this product is fast acting, it is designed to complement oral nutrition programs at critical times of stress, like vaccination.

Strategic supplementation of trace minerals to support vaccine response

Supporting oral nutrition programs with injectable trace minerals, (ITM’s) can be particularly beneficial to young or weaned calves. Pre-conditioning and weaning are stressful times for calves, and stress can suppress immune function. This can make calves more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as respiratory disease, which can be costly to treat and can impact overall productivity. Providing ITM’s to calves prior to or during these stressful times can help to improve their immune response and support overall health, potentially enhancing the effectiveness of vaccination and reducing the risk of disease. Research results have shown that calves that received injectable trace minerals at the time of vaccination had higher antibody titers (a measure of immune response) than calves that did not receive the ITM, resulting in a 27% increase in herd immune response to vaccination.

Injectable trace minerals can also support vaccine protection and immune response when disease is present. The University of Georgia conducted a study that evaluated the impact of ITM’s on calves who were challenged with BVDV-2 and IBR to induce illness after vaccination. Prior to the challenge, calves received a primary intranasal vaccine later boostered with an injectable vaccine. Endoscopic images were captured to compare the clinical effects of the challenged calves following booster vaccine and use of ITM. Results showed a decrease in clinical signs and sickness following a disease challenge with BVD and IBR in calves treated with ITM at time of vaccination, compared to calves who did not receive ITM’s. All these studies were conducted with cattle on a good oral supplement during the study.

Optimizing vaccine ROI

Supporting an oral supplement program with injectable trace minerals during periods of high demand and stress, such as vaccination and weaning, provides confidence that every animal treated is supplemented with the trace minerals needed for a healthy immune response. By taking this comprehensive approach to calf health management, producers can help ensure the long-term success of their operations.

Please consult with your local veterinarian on proper use of injectable trace minerals and formulating comprehensive vaccination and herd health protocols.