cattle vaccine

Animal health professionals remind producers that partially used vaccines and those past the expiration date will not provide the desired disease protection.

It’s tempting.

There’s a bottle of vaccine left over from working your cattle. It hasn’t been opened but the date printed on the box and bottle show it’s expired. It’s probably okay to use, right? Wrong.

“If you are going to the time and effort and stress of running your cattle through the chute, why would you use something that is not going to result in the maximum benefit you want?” asks Dr. Mark Bramwell, DVM, of South Fork Animal Clinic in Rigby. “The expiration date is on there for a reason.”

Vaccinating cattle (or any species) is intended to enhance the animal’s immunity and protection from disease and infection. This benefit is compromised by expired or incorrectly handled and stored product, and poor overall animal husbandry. The result is a direct and indirect economic hit for the livestock owner.

A basic suite of protective vaccinations for a mother cow in Eastern Idaho may cost $8 to $10 per head. Using a product with degraded potency is not only expensive, it reduces production and reproduction of the animal, and impairs important passive immunity transfer to an unborn calf. Calves vaccinated with degraded product are more susceptible to disease and perform more poorly down the value chain.

“It’s a biological fact that effectiveness trends down over time,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, former technical service veterinarian for Merck Animal Health, during an interview prior to his recent retirement. “If you use a vaccine past the expiration date or handle it improperly in other ways, you assume the risks of decreased potency, and also lose the support of the manufacturer.”

Vaccine manufacturers are tightly regulated by the USDA, and as well as an expiration date, all products are required to have clear instructions on use, handling and storage. Hill explains that once vaccine leaves their warehouse it goes to major distributors, then to retail outlets. The care taken by the retailer can impact performance.

“We really encourage people to purchase from reliable sources,” says Hill. “You don’t want that product to have spent days and days on a UPS truck, or been where it gets too hot, or freezes. Buy from retailers you can trust, and who are diligent about how they handle and store these products. Keep records of lot numbers and dates so if there is a problem we can work together to sort it out.”

Dr. Bramwell reminds producers that checking the expiration date is only one part of correct vaccine procedures.

“I often see people use part of a bottle, and save the rest for later,” he says. “Once that seal is broken, bacteria start getting in. Even worse, using dirty needles to draw vaccine directly introduces bacteria and degrades the product.” Dr. Bramwell advises stockmen to purchase only the number of doses they need, use the entire contents, and avoid stockpiling vaccine. He also points out that a mixed vaccine only has a life of about an hour.

Chute-side protocols for vaccine handling including temperature and UV exposure, injection techniques, boosters, and overall animal health impact response and protective values from any vaccination program, agrees Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension Agent and Beef Quality Assurance Co-Coordinator for Idaho.

“Research shows there is a definite ripple effect from the cow to the calf and eventual feedlot or reproductive performance,” says Williams. “Certainly death losses hurt, but even subtle differences in rebreeding, growth and calf performance cost the rancher.”

Williams encourages producers to adopt Beef Quality Assurance record keeping protocols, and to become BQA certified.

“The label is the law on vaccines,” she says. “The expiration date is on there for a reason. But we also know that many producers don’t store or handle them right, which definitely impacts their effectiveness.”

Co-author of PNW 637, Cattle Vaccine Handling and Storage Guidelines, Williams cites studies conducted by the University of Idaho and others which revealed that up to 75% of ranch refrigerators fail to maintain temperatures required for correct vaccine storage. In addition, many retailers fail to monitor and maintain storage temperatures per product requirements.

“There’s so much that goes into keeping that cow and calf healthy,” adds Dr. Bramwell, noting the synergistic effects of a health, nutrition and trace mineral supplementation regimen. “Vaccinations are an important part of the program. It’s expensive and makes no sense to give something that isn’t as effective as it should be.”

For a Vaccine Best Management Practices checklist, go to PNW 637 at For the BQA Cattle Health Product Record see the National BQA Manual at