Vaccinations for beef cattle

Vaccinations are an important part of disease prevention in an animal health program. Vaccinations need to be combined with specific management practices for best control of some diseases. Before embarking on a vaccination program for your herd, contact your veterinarian, stock inspector or beef adviser for up-to-date advice. The following table provides details about key vaccines used in Queensland herds. When administering vaccines, always follow the manufacturers’ instructions. For more information on handling, administering and storing vaccines see Principles of using vaccines.

5-in-1 covers five clostridial diseases, namely pulpy kidney (enterotoxaemia), black disease, tetanus, blackleg, and malignant oedema.

7-in-1 covers the same diseases as 5-in-1 plus Leptospira harjo and Leptospira pomona.

Clostridial diseases (Blackleg, tetanus, and pulpy kidney)

Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
Two injections of 5-in-1 4–6 weeks apart. At your discretion, but recommended in areas where there is high risk of any of these diseases. Calves from 6–8 weeks to 2 years old. Branding and weaning – assuming that these are not more than 6 weeks apart for maximum protection. Giving only one vaccination at branding provides only limited protection for 4–6 weeks.

There is a small window where tetanus could be a problem. The normal incubation period for tetanus varies between three days and four weeks. Ideally calves should be vaccinated before branding. Development of immunity to most bacterial vaccines is 10–14 days, so there is a small risk that some vaccinated calves at branding could still get tetanus. Unvaccinated weaners should be vaccinated immediately.


Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
Two injections 4–6 weeks apart. Yes. For best effect the annual booster should be given at mid-pregnancy to ensure a high level of protection when reproductive problems are most likely to occur. Maiden heifers and pregnant cows. Vaccinate maiden heifers (2 injections) before mating. Then all pregnant animals at mid to late pregnancy. If heifers have had two 7-in-1 injections, an annual vaccination mid to late pregnancy is required.

Bulls should also be vaccinated if there is a disease problem. Leptospirosis is diagnosed by serology. Blood samples are required from 20–30 cows, and are best collected during the wet season when the disease is most prevalent. In an outbreak of leptospirosis, all calves on the property should be vaccinated.

Three day sickness (Bovine ephemeral fever)

Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
Two injections 4–6 weeks apart. Yes. Current season’s sale cattle and bulls. Spring. Too expensive to treat the whole herd. Consider treating valuable animals.

This is a difficult vaccine to handle because: of the small pack size; it must be used within 8 hours of reconstituting, and; it cannot be connected to a vaccinator gun.


Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
One injection OR two injections 4–6 weeks apart – depending on the vaccine used. Yes. All susceptible animals. When convenient, but preferably not at the same time as another vaccine. Vaccines are available that give up to three years’ protection with a single injection. However their effectiveness depends on whether animals get exposed to botulism during that time. If it is a low risk area, annual vaccination is recommended.

Deaths from botulism are usually associated with phosphorus deficiency. If cattle are seen chewing bones it could mean you need to feed phosphorus (or protein)— just because you feed phosphorus doesn’t mean cattle are safe from botulism. The only really safe way out is to vaccinate. Botulism vaccination is recommended for all herds in northern Australia.

Tick fever

Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
One injection. No. All animals including home-grown and introduced, particularly animals considered ‘at risk’, e.g. cattle with lower Brahman content. Any time but ideally at weaning (3–9 months of age). Consider a second vaccination for expensive/stud animals introduced from tick free areas.

Contact the Tick Fever Centre, phone 07 3270 9600, for information on tick fever vaccination programs including choice of vaccine, vaccinating introduced susceptible adult cattle, and revaccination.


Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
Two injections 4–6 weeks apart. Yes. All bulls and in infected herds, vaccinate two year old heifers with one dose about one month before mating. One month before mating. Recommended for bulls in all breeding herds.

Vibriosis is a very common infertility disease which mainly affects maiden heifers. Vaccinated bulls will not spread the disease.

Pestivirus (Bovine viral diarrhoea virus)

Initial treatment Annual booster Animals to treat When to treat Comment
Two injections 4–6 weeks apart. Yes, 2–4 weeks before mating. All breeding cattle including bulls. Introduced females and introduced bulls. Second initial vaccination should be 2–4 weeks before mating. Seek professional advice before vaccinating. Vaccination may be unwarranted (see below).

In a breeding herd, it is valuable to know whether the pestivirus is endemic or not. Testing for antibodies in blood from a group of up to 30 older cows born on the property will indicate this. The group which usually suffers the biggest loss is maiden heifers. Therefore, well before selection and maiden mating, testing antibodies in blood from up to 30 of these can indicate whether one or more persistently infected animals (PIs) is infecting the group or not. If PIs are not present in a heifer group within an endemic herd, then vaccination is indicated. Vaccination against pestivirus infection of naïve heifer groups before first mating is expected to be profitable when only 1% chronic loss is incurred.

In naïve herds, the level of vigilance has to be much higher to prevent financial loss. For more information about pestivirus visit Reproductive disease management — Pestivirus.

Additional resources

Principles of using vaccines 

MLA vaccination for beef cattle in northern Australia fact sheet


Vaccinating for better beef outcomes

Vaccinating cattle is one of the best things you can do to protect your herd and the future of your business. Not every cow needs to have every vaccination, so which ones are important for graziers in Queensland? Find out how to make sure you are vaccinating for the right risks and protecting your future. 5 minutes, published by Queensland Agriculture September 2019.


For more information about these diseases see Health and disease.

Ted Vinson and Felicity Hamlyn-Hill, formerly Queensland Government.