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Joint Effort

Managing a cow herd, reproductive program takes teamwork between producer and veterinarian.

There is no “silver bullet,” to ensure the success of a herd health program, it’s a group effort. Those were the words of Randall Spare, veterinarian with Ashland Veterinary Clinic in Ashland, Kan., at the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) workshops in Manhattan, Kan., Aug. 29-30.

“What I’ve learned over the years is that I’ve got to do a better job of communicating,” he said.

It’s important to have and maintain reproductively efficient females with early growth that produce a calf that will add value to the cow herd.

Producers are in control of their genetic choices, and Spare stressed the importance of selecting for docile animals. Those cattle “will perform better,” he said.

Spare added that solid nutrition and health programs are necessary, as well as fertility testing bulls. He reminded producers, “When there’s a fertility problem, rarely is it just one cause.”

Those four components — docility, nutrition, health and sound bulls — help ensure a reproductively efficient cow herd.


“Immunity is a lifetime experience starting at conception, and we have to make sure we’re making the right decisions to create that possibility,” Spare said.

A calf’s level of immunity is very low at the time of birth, so colostral intake is of utmost importance.

“It’s not black and white,” Spare said. “It’s a degree of response to colostral intake. Providing an environment for calves to nurse immediately to provide colostrum following birth is necessary.


“The cornerstone of a herd health program is to know what our BVD (bovine viral diarrhea) status is,” Spare said. Test for the disease, test for persistently infected (PI) calves, and vaccinate at the right time. When the herd is confirmed BVD-free, make biosecurity a priority to keep it that way.

Regarding the debate of MLV (modified-live virus) vs. killed vaccine, Spare says any vaccine can provide protection when used in the appropriate time and place. “It’s about timing,” he said.

In situations where cattle are already stressed, even a great vaccination protocol may get poor results.

“When we add stress to a vaccination program that would appear to be right, maybe it’s wrong,” he said, urging producers to use the right timing with the right vaccine.

“Just because we vaccinate and vaccinate often doesn’t mean we’ll get a more robust response,” Spare said. “We have to be careful of how we use it, and ask ourselves what’s the appropriate way.”


BVD has a unique and efficient way of hiding out in herd sires, Spare added. If the virus ends up in the testicles, it can hide out for as long as 18 months completely undetected. That’s a problem.

Spare urged producers to buy young, virgin bulls. The veterinarian strongly discouraged the practice of leasing bulls, calling it “a bad idea.”

With trichomoniasis, Spare said, “Know who your neighbors are and what their practices are.” He recommended vaccinating for vibrio and leptospirosis yearly.

As a final note, Spare again stressed the importance of selecting for docile cattle, reminding his audience that calves out of tame cows gain better and are more reproductively efficient throughout their lives.

Spare spoke during Tuesday’s ARSBC session focused on application of reproductive technologies. Visit the Newsroom at, which features comprehensive coverage of the symposium, to view his PowerPoint, to read the proceedings or to listen to the presentation. Compiled by the Angus Journal editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force. To access video of the presentations, visit the Beef Reproduction Task Force page on Facebook.

The 2017 ARSBC Symposium was hosted by the Task Force and Kansas State University Research & Extension. Next year’s symposium will be Aug. 29-30 in Ruidoso, N.M.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, an Angus Media publication. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.