A Primer on Livestock Vaccines

Our veterinary expert shares the basics of livestock vaccines, a topic vital to all homestead animal raisers.

| November/December 1980

Long ago, some observant folks noticed that people who caught certain diseases (such as smallpox) — and lived through the illnesses — never again came down with that same condition. Drs. Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur later put that principle to work by creating the vaccine ... a medicine that, because it gives a person a slight case of a particular disease, actually encourages his or her body's natural defense system to develop resistance to any subsequent attack of the ailment. Ever since such preventive medications were put into widespread use, the incidence of many serious human illnesses (including smallpox, diptheria, and polio) has been greatly reduced.

Scientists have created vaccines for many livestock diseases, too. (Indeed, the root word for vaccine, vacca, means cow in Latin and reflects the fact that the first inoculation was derived from the organism which caused cowpox.)

And today, such defense builders are vital aids to anyone who wants to raise healthy livestock. These "miracle" medicines do create one problem, however: There are so darned many vaccines (all wrapped up with big three-dollar names, to boot) that the average beast keeper can hardly make sense of the subject!

I've written the following primer on livestock vaccines in order to clear up some of the confusion surrounding this topic. In this article, I'll explain the various medical terms, share some general rules for setting up your own disease defense program, and even throw in a chart that shows which germ beaters are generally most useful for medicating small homestead livestock animals. After all, animal vaccines are not all that difficult to understand or to administer ... if you know what you're doing.

For instance, what is a toxoid ... or an antitoxin ... or passive and active immunity ... or the difference between live, killed, and attenuated vaccines? And most important, which substances should be used to medicate your critters, and when should the treatment be applied?

Passive Immunity

There are two basic types of disease immunity: passive and active. Passive immunity is resistance that is given to — not developed by — the creature carrying the defense. Such "outside help" provides resistance to a disease in a very short time, but that protection will eventually disappear. In some ways, passive immunity is like a youngster's winter snow fort. The easily erected play castle can provide protection during a short "battle" ... but it will melt away after a few days of sunshine.

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