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Vaccinating the Dairy Herd

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

By Clare M. Staveley, DVM - Curbstone Valley Farm

When vaccinating dairy goats it is important to understand the risks that are relevant to your herd. Many of the available livestock vaccines are not labeled for use in goats. There may be little data available regarding efficacy, or the incidence of adverse reactions in goats. Work with your veterinarian, and/or agricultural extension agent, to discuss potential disease risks, and determine which vaccines are most appropriate for your herd.

CD&T (Clostridium perfringens types C & D + Clostridium tetani)

CD&T, or 3-way, is the core vaccine that all goat producers should use and is administered subcutaneously. There are several brands available. Choose one labeled for goats, and follow label directions closely for administration and storage. Some multi-valent (7 and 8-way) vaccines may cover additional types of Clostridium, beyond types C&D, but are usually unnecessary in goats, and they carry a higher risk of adverse reactions. Regardless, the Clostridium vaccine you choose should include coverage for tetanus.

Bred does should be vaccinated for CD&T approximately 30 days prior to kidding. Kids from a properly vaccinated doe can be vaccinated at 5 to 6 weeks of age and then given a booster within three to four weeks. Vaccination of kids from fully vaccinated does prior to 5 weeks of age can result in kids that are not protected, due to maternal antibody interference. If in doubt about the vaccination status of an animal, over the age of 6 weeks, revaccinate as if the animal has never been vaccinated. Two initial doses, three to four weeks apart, and then booster as needed.

Kids born to does with no vaccination history should be vaccinated at 7 to 21 days of age and then given a booster in three to four weeks. Tetanus antitoxin (150 – 250 units) can be given at birth, disbudding, or castration, but must be followed up with full vaccination using the toxoid.

The frequency of vaccination varies by herd. Most herds booster CD&T every 6-12 months. Recent studies have suggested that the duration of immunity post-vaccination for Clostridium perfringens C&D may be less than four months. If your herd is challenged with Clostridium outbreaks, it may be necessary to booster three times per year.

Note that CD ANTITOXIN and Tetanus ANTITOXIN are not the same as the CD&T TOXOID (vaccine). Antitoxins only provide a short duration of immunity during active disease or injury. For vaccination, and long-term immunity, use the TOXOID.

Optional Vaccines

Depending on herd location, and management, additional vaccines may be recommended. Ask your veterinarian which vaccines may be most beneficial for your herd.

Note that all goats, regardless of purpose, are legally considered to be food-producing animals. The use of off-label products in food-producing animals, BY LAW, requires administration by a licensed veterinarian.

Rabies - This vaccine is labeled for use in SHEEP only. There has been one long-term study using Imrab® (Merial) in goats, but this vaccine is NOT labeled for use in goats in the United States. It is important to work with your veterinarian to know the regulations that apply in your State regarding the administration of rabies vaccines in livestock.

Contagious Lymphadenitis (Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis). The CL vaccine is only recommended in herds where CL is already present to aid in the control of an outbreak. There is a vaccine labeled for sheep, and goats 3 months of age or older. The vaccine is regulated by each state's veterinary agency, and may only be available to veterinarians. Note that the sheep vaccine should NOT be used in goats. If a herd or flock is vaccinated, serologic testing for CL will no longer be useful to prove the absence of natural infection within a herd, as vaccinated animals may test positive via blood testing.

Sore Mouth - (Orf/Contagious Echthyma)- The Sore Mouth vaccine should not be used on farms where sore mouth has never been known to occur. Recently-vaccinated animals should not be co-mingled with other sheep and goats, as this will spread the virus.

The vaccine is ideally made from live virus isolated from ground-up scabs of infected animals in the herd, and although a commercial vaccine is available, an autogenous (farm-specific) vaccine is usually recommended. The virus is treated in a way so that it will not cause serious disease, but will produce a mild form of sore mouth in those that are vaccinated. Unfortunately, the vaccine does not produce a strong or long-lasting immunity. Vaccination may not always prevent animals from becoming infected, but may reduce the severity or duration of the disease.

Protective gloves must be worn when handling the vaccine or recently-vaccinated animals, as this virus is infectious to humans.

Mastitis - Several mastitis vaccines labeled for dairy cows are currently on the market to aid in preventing new mastitis infections. However, no vaccines are currently approved for use in dairy goats in the United States, and all use is off-label. Work with your veterinarian to culture, identify the cause of mastitis in the herd, and make any necessary management changes, before resorting to using a vaccine.

Pneumonia - Show herds may encounter environmental stressors, or exposure to respiratory viruses, that can predispose animals to secondary bacterial respiratory infections. Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida are most frequently encountered, and vaccines are available and labeled for goats. No vaccine has proven to be completely effective against pasteurellosis in goats. Follow label directions. Vaccinate goats after 3 months of age. If vaccinated younger than 3 months, animals should be re-vaccinated between 4-6 months of age.

Infectious Abortion - Several causes of infectious abortion in small ruminants pose significant human health risks. Consult with your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis of any causes of infectious abortion in your herd before developing a vaccination protocol for your herd. While vaccines are available for some causes of infectious abortion, including Leptospirosis, and Campylobacter, there are no vaccines available for Listeria, Toxoplasmosis, or Q fever.

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