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Calf Respiratory Infections: Improving welfare and productivity through vaccination programmes

Sylvaine Lacrosse BVetMed MRCVS

Calf respiratory disease is something that is present throughout the year, and whilst this is typical of this type of disease, as we approach the colder months we are expecting to see an increase in cases. Unfortunately for producers, there are so many different pathogens linked to respiratory disease that it can be difficult to identify the cause.

Calf pneumonia, often called Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD), is a multi-factorial disease causing damage and inflammation to the respiratory tract, including the airways and the lungs.

As a general rule of thumb, the viruses are what we call ‘primary pathogens’, damaging the upper respiratory tract and predisposing the lungs to a secondary bacterial infection. This is not always the case, however please see below a list of some of the pathogens that can be involved:

Common viral causes

  • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)
  • Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV)
  • Parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3)
  • Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD)

Common bacterial causes

  • Mannheimia Haemolytica
  • Pasteurella Multocida
  • Haemophilus Somni
  • Mycoplasma Bovis

With so many potential pathogens involved, as well as many different vaccine options available, it can be difficult to work out what control is needed on your particular farm. This is why a ‘one size fits all’ vaccination programme is not always effective or appropriate. We would recommend a thorough discussion and investigation with your vet to review your requirements, as this will ensure that the correct vaccine is selected to protect certain age groups of calves against the pathogens present on your farm.

For our clients at Molecare, we have launched our Calf Vaccination Programme which is a package of healthcare services focused on preventing respiratory disease and infection. Our programme includes the following:

  • Initial on farm assessment of calf housing and systems
  • Single serology testing of 5 calves
  • Detailed veterinary report from initial visit
  • Bespoke vaccination protocol for your herd
  • Monthly visits from Data Recorder – to weigh calves and take total protein counts
  • Monthly weight reports – to ensure calves are kept on track to reach their target weights
  • Administration of vaccines to calves

Preventative healthcare through vaccination programmes is really important. Often respiratory disease is only associated with wheezing calves and a soaring temperature, however these calves are only the tip of the iceberg. In a recent study by Zoetis, nearly 500 calves were followed from birth to slaughter with their lungs examined by post-mortem for evidence of respiratory disease. Of these 500 calves, 35% had been diagnosed and treated for pneumonia, however at post mortem 72% of the 500 showed evidence of lung damage. This included calves who had never showed signs of clinical disease and were apparently ‘healthy’.

In a vaccination programme, all calves of a certain group or age-group are vaccinated, protecting against clinical and sub-clinical disease. This makes vaccinating a cost-effective tool which saves you money in the long-term, achieved by protecting against pneumonia through reducing circulating pathogens in the environment and boosting a calf’s immune system. However this only occurs if the vaccination programme has been appropriately targeted to the farm and animals. It is worth remembering that whilst vaccination has proven very successful on many farms, it does not work miracles and should be used as a part of a wider preventative protocol.

We also must not forget the importance of good animal husbandry, and calf health should be holistically approached. For example, if you are rearing your own calves, is your colostrum protocol adequate? Is the feeding regime appropriate and consistent? How clean are the pens? Is there sufficient air flow without draughts at calf level?

Poor calf health can have a significant impact on your herd’s productivity and should be taken seriously for both financial and welfare reasons, and so if you would like more advice on preventative healthcare, or calf management we would recommend contacting your local vet for advice.  

For more information on the Molecare Calf Vaccination Programme please call 01392 872934 or email [email protected]

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