Not too early to vaccinate for anthrax

Farm Forum

Now is the time for livestock producers to get their animals vaccinated against anthrax.

“Conditions this year are conducive to the development of anthrax,” warns Charlie Stoltenow, North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian.

Those conditions include the heavy rainfall most of North Dakota is experiencing this spring. Anthrax spores can survive in the soil for decades, and rain and flooding can raise the spores to the ground’s surface. When animals graze or consume forage or water contaminated with the spores, they are exposed to the disease.

“That is why cattle should be vaccinated before they are turned out onto pasture,” Stoltenow says. “Vaccination is especially important for livestock in areas with a history of anthrax.”

While the disease mainly has been reported in northeastern, southeastern and south-central North Dakota, it has been found in almost every part of the state, according to state animal health officials. Cases of the disease occur in the region almost every year.

Livestock in areas where anthrax has been found should be vaccinated about four weeks before the disease usually appears. In North Dakota, that generally is July or August, although cases have occurred as early as March.

Herds within six miles of a prior case of anthrax also should be vaccinated, especially in years with wet spring weather and/or flooding. Because immunity appears to wane after about six months, livestock need to be vaccinated for anthrax annually.

“The vaccine is inexpensive and very effective,” Stoltenow says.

He recommends producers check with their veterinarian to make sure their livestock’s vaccination schedule is adequate and the vaccination is up to date.

If anthrax is detected in a herd, producers should move the herd immediately to a new pasture away from where dead animals were found to prevent other animals from getting infected, Stoltenow says.

During severe outbreak conditions, animals that haven’t been vaccinated and are exposed to anthrax may have to be treated with antibiotics and then vaccinated. Producers thinking about treating with antibiotics should contact their veterinarian because antibiotics decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine, Stoltenow says.

Producers also should monitor their herds for unexpected deaths and report those losses to their veterinarian.

Because anthrax also is a risk to humans, people should not move a carcass. The carcasses of animals that died from anthrax should be disposed of, preferably through burning, as close to where they died as possible. Any contaminated soil should be piled on top of the carcasses for burning, Stoltenow says.

For more information about anthrax, visit