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  • Writer's pictureKaty Stanlake

Calf Health Week - Calf pneumonia

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Respiratory disease in calves can be an expensive and time consuming problem. Disease in suckled or reared beef calves can increase finishing time and costs, and reduce carcase quality. Disease in dairy heifer calves, particularly in the first three months of life, can result in failure to attain recommended growth and age targets, increasing age at first bulling and calving, reducing lactation yields, and ultimately longevity within the milking herd.

Management needs to be aimed at to prevent calf pneumonia

  • Colostrum - A simple blood test by one of our vets or vet techs of a selection of calves in the first few days of life will show if they have received adequate antibodies

  • Hygiene – Deep, dry, clean bedding is essential, as well as correctly cleaning and disinfecting all buckets/feeders.

  • Ventilation – Most respiratory viruses survive for about 5-10 minutes in fresh air but if only 50% of the air is fresh (in a shed not adequately ventilated) then the viruses can survive for an hour or even longer, thereby increasing the risk of infection. Fresh air also removes ammonia and dust which can damage the lung lining leaving them open to infections. Forced ventilation with tubes or fans may be necessary. The key is ventilation without draughts at calf level!

  • Moisture Control – Wet Calves = Cold Calves - Relative humidity is high in the UK, especially in the winter time, so don’t add to it - make sure there is good drainage especially around feeders and water troughs.

  • Grouping animals of a similar age - Avoid shared airspace with older animals!

  • Vaccination - Good calf management and housing is important to control calf pneumonia however it is difficult to remove all the risk factors associated with bovine respiratory disease. Vaccination works by increasing the immunity of the individual animal and decreases the infection pressure within the group.


There are a plethora of respiratory vaccinations now available. It is important to note that no vaccine will be totally effective in the face of a high challenge and poor resilience. Speak to your vet about which vaccine they would recommend for your farm.

Nasal swabs, blood samples and post mortem examinations can all reveal presence of the pathogen itself (antigen or PCR testing) or show evidence of exposure to the agent (antibodies). Putting this information together can help us identify which pathogens are present on an individual farm and what the most appropriate vaccination protocol may be for you.

If you are thinking of vaccinating your calves against respiratory disease and would like more information then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.


Antibiotics - while many causes of pneumonia are viral (which antibiotics will not treat) secondary bacterial infections are common.

Anti-inflammatories - reduce lung inflammation and restore growth rates faster. Some antibiotics come with an anti-inflammatory part mixed in so you only have to do one injection.

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