We have all heard it, “They don’t need that eye to eat,” which is a common misconception when it comes to the impacts of pinkeye in the cattle industry. Research shows that calves that are diagnosed with pinkeye will weigh between 20 to 40 pounds less at weaning than healthy calves, and a blind calf will weigh about 60 pounds less at weaning. This loss of weaning weight, in addition to the cost of treatment and labor, adds up to an estimated cost to the cattle industry of $150 million annually.

While commercial pink eye vaccines can be very effective at treating common strains, in some cases, it can be economically beneficial to work with a veterinarian and laboratory to develop an autogenous vaccine for your operation.

An autogenous vaccine is, by definition, is a vaccine that is prepared from cultures of microorganisms obtained from an individual/population, and then used to immunize that same individual/population, against further spread and progress of the same microorganism. In terms of pinkeye in the cattle industry, this translates to taking samples of infected cattle or herd of cattle, culturing the bacteria, and using those pathogens to develop a vaccine that can be used to build immunity within the herd to minimize future outbreaks.

The use of autogenous vaccines to combat pinkeye can be effective, as there are several strains and mutations of the bacteria that are responsible for pinkeye. By culturing bacteria from a particular herd, producers are able to pinpoint the specific strains that are unique to their operation.

Requirements and regulations

Autogenous vaccines are regulated by the USDA and require a script from a veterinarian. Development, distribution and shelf life are all regulated. In addition, if non-adjacent operations (neighbors) would like to work together to create a vaccine, approval from the state veterinarian is required. This is a common practice, and most laboratories are able to assist in the process to gain approval.

Taking swabs

Swab kits can be attained from a lab or veterinarian. It is critical that eyes are swabbed in animals prior to antibiotic treatment. Cattle in early and mid-stages of clinical pinkeye should be sampled. The swabs should be taken from the center of the eye, over the pupil. A total of 6 to 10 samples should been taken using swabs from the lab which you plan to work with.

Once the vaccine has been created and is being used in the operation, it is recommended that additional swabs are taken whenever there is a new outbreak, especially in situations where new cattle are being introduced on a regular basis.

Other considerations

Depending on the lab you and your veterinarian choose, it typically takes between 2 to 4 weeks to receive your first serial of vaccines. The minimum dosage order depends on the laboratory. Typical labs require around 2,000 doses to be ordered, however, there are some that will process much smaller orders. The cost per dose is directly related to the number of doses that is ordered. Approximate cost of a 2,000 dose order would be around $1.00 to $1.35 per dose, whereas for 5,000 doses the cost would likely be reduced by over $0.25 per dose.

Another tool that works hand-in-hand with autogenous vaccines for pinkeye treatment is an antibiotic sensitivity test. Performed by laboratories, this test will help producers determine which antibiotic treatments will be most effective in treating their particular strains of pinkeye. If working with a laboratory to develop an autogenous pinkeye vaccine, they will likely preform this test. However, for producers who would like to determine which antibiotic would be most effective to treat an outbreak, but don’t plan to develop a vaccine, university and state laboratories are able to perform those tests for approximately $20.  This is money well spent when considering the cost of antibiotics and labor to retreat animals.

Development of autogenous vaccines can be a very cost effective tool for cattle producers, particularly those working with young and commonly co-mingled cattle, such as stockers and feed yards. In addition, for any operations that struggle with pinkeye, taking advantage of an antibiotic sensitivity test would allow them to ensure they are using the most effective treatment for their operation.  As always, working closely with your veterinarian will allow you to maximize the effectiveness of your pinkeye management strategy.

Adapted from originally published article: Kalyn Waters for Progressive Cattleman

Kalyn Waters