Vaccinate to protect cattle health and profits

Page last updated: Monday, 12 August 2019 - 4:12pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Vaccines can prevent a wide range of diseases that cause reduced production, fertility or death in cattle and economic losses to Western Australian producers.

What diseases do cattle vaccines prevent?

Vaccines can prevent a wide range of diseases that cause reduced production, fertility or death in cattle and economic losses to Western Australian producers.

Vaccines can protect cattle against clostridial, reproductive and respiratory diseases as well as calf scours, bovine ephemeral fever and pink eye.

Always follow the vaccine label directions to ensure the vaccination program is effective and to prevent residues in slaughtered animals.

Discussing your vaccination program with your private or Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) vet will assist you to decide which vaccinations will be most valuable in maintaining your herd’s health and profitability.

Clostridial disease vaccines

Clostridial diseases can cause serious livestock losses in Australia. They are caused by bacteria in the Clostridium genus, which are normally present in the stomach, intestinal tract and muscles of cattle. They can live up to several years in soil, water or decomposing plant and animal material.

To cause disease, the clostridial bacteria need an opportunity to multiply. This can occur where muscle or other tissues are bruised or cut, or the bacteria is consumed. The bacteria then release toxins that cause visible signs of disease in the cattle.

The clostridial diseases of most importance in WA are blackleg, malignant oedema, enterotoxaemia, botulism and tetanus (see Table 1). Black disease is also included in some vaccines but is associated with liver fluke, which is not present in WA.

All cattle are at risk of clostridial diseases, however young stock are more commonly affected as the bacteria can gain access during marking, branding, dehorning, injections of antibiotics and vaccines, and castration. Blackleg is usually seen in rapidly growing animals from six months onwards or in cattle that have been bruised by poor transport, yarding and husbandry techniques.

Table 1 Diseases caused by clostridial bacteria in cattle

Clostridium sp.


Clostridium chauvoei


Clostridium speticum

(also Clostridium novyi)

Malignant oedema

Clostridium novyi Type B

Black disease (associated with liver fluke)

Clostridium tetani


Clostridium botulinum Type C & D


Clostridium perfringens Type C & D

Enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney)

Botulism usually occurs after cattle have ingested feed or water that has been in contact with decaying vegetable or animal matter including bones or decaying carcasses.

Reproductive and infertility disease vaccines

Some diseases that cause abortion in cows can also cause disease in people, such as leptospirosis discussed below. These diseases are known as zoonotic diseases and producers should practise good hygiene when handing calving or aborting cows. Remember to cover all cuts and abrasions and always thoroughly wash hands after handling aborted material and affected cows. Pregnant women should avoid handling aborting cows and aborted materials until a diagnosis has been made. Any producer with concerns about zoonotic diseases should discuss these with their doctor. 

There are commercial vaccines available to prevent vibriosis, bovine pestivirus (BVDV) and leptospirosis, diseases which affect fertility in cattle.


Vibriosis is a venereal disease of cattle caused by the bacteria Campylobacter fetus ssp. venerealis that can cause infertility and/or abortion. It lives in the prepuce of infected bulls and it only takes a single service to infect cows and heifers that have not been in contact with the bacteria before.

The disease usually goes unnoticed until the producer sees abnormally high numbers of heifers and cows return to the bull at irregular intervals, abnormally high numbers of empty cattle at pregnancy testing, or abortions.

Bovine pestivirus

Bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV) or bovine pestivirus type-1 is a complex virus capable of causing many different issues in cattle. It is important to understand the disease and to contact your local vet for advice before vaccinating your herd for BVDV. See the BVDV webpage for more information.


In Australia, leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira interrogans serovars pomona and hardjo, and Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar hardjo. It can cause significant illness and abortion in cattle herds.

The main signs in cattle are return to oestrus due to early embryonic loss, dullness, lethargy and fever. It can also infect the reproductive tract of cows and heifers.

The disease is highly contagious and infected animals shed high levels of leptospires in urine. Cattle and people can contract leptospirosis from contact with body fluids of infected animals including cattle, pigs, rats and mice. It is important to vaccinate for leptospirosis in cattle as the disease in people can cause meningitis, kidney and liver failure if not treated early.

Respiratory disease vaccines

There are two vaccines available to prevent and control respiratory disease in cattle in Australia. The vaccines are generally used to prepare cattle going into feedlots and while in feedlots.

The two infectious agents covered by these vaccines are infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus and Mannheimia haemolytica.

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus (bovine herpes virus type 1)

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) is a respiratory disease caused by bovine herpes virus type 1. It often occurs in feedlot cattle, although it is sometimes seen in grazing cattle.

Signs include laboured breathing, coughing and discharges from the eyes and nose. There may also be signs of dullness and lethargy, along with fever. Younger cattle can die of pneumonia if infected with a secondary bacterial infection like Mannheimia haemolytica.

Mannheimia haemolytica

This bacterium often contributes to severe pneumonia in cattle that are infected with IBR or another respiratory virus.

Neonatal calf scours vaccines

If scours in calves is ongoing, contact your private vet or local DPIRD vet to investigate the cause of the scours. Calf scours can be a complex problem with many causes. It is important to gather as much information as possible so that a calf scours management plan can be created. Vaccination alone is unlikely to solve issues with calf scours.

Vaccines are available in different combinations for different causes of calf scours. These include protection against rotavirus, coronavirus, Clostridium perfrigens, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella dublin.

In most cases the cow needs to be vaccinated while pregnant to boost antibodies in the colostrum to provide early protection against scours in calves. These vaccines are generally only effective if there is already good colostrum management in the calf group.

Bovine ephemeral fever disease vaccine

Bovine ephemeral fever (BEF), known as ‘three-day sickness’, is caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes. In northern WA the disease occurs in the dry and wet season. Clinical disease is more common where there has been a shift in the distribution of the mosquito vector associated with rainfall and in cattle introduced to endemic zone.

In WA the virus is endemic in the northern Kimberley and occasionally southern pastoral area including the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Murchison. Cattle of all ages can be affected, but BEF is most commonly seen in cattle between six months and about two years old.

Signs of BEF include an inability to rise or walk, stiffness, fever, dullness, lethargy and not eating. Cattle usually recover after three days.

Vaccination is recommended for bulls introduced from areas outside the BEF area. For example, vaccinating bulls from southern WA will provide some protection if they come into contact with the virus once in the BEF endemic area.

Pink eye vaccine

Infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK) or pink eye is a common contagious eye disease usually seen in young cattle during dry periods.

Signs include streaming tears, cloudy eye(s), red and closed eyelids or increased blinking.

Currently there is only one vaccine in Australia to help prevent pink eye in cattle. Cattle need to be vaccinated 3–6 weeks before the pink eye season, and revaccinated every year to maintain immunity.

It is recommended that you obtain advice from a private vet about pink eye vaccination of your herd. If vaccination is used during an outbreak, results are variable.

More information

For more information, contact your private vet or local DPIRD field vet.