Vaccinate calves against bacterial pneumonia this autumn

07 Aug 2020

Vets are urging producers to consider vaccinating valuable herd replacements pre-housing this autumn.

M haemolytica was, by far, the most commonly diagnosed cause of pneumonia in housed dairy calves in winter 2019.

Common bacterial

“And, according to recent AHPA surveillance data for England and Wales, pneumonia diagnoses attributed to this common bacterial cause were particularly prevalent in both unweaned and weaned dairy calves between November 2019 and March 2020,” says MSD Animal Health’s vet Kat Baxter-Smith.

“It is important to understand that both viruses and bacteria can cause pneumonia,” she adds.  “Many viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens live harmlessly, as part of the normal micro-organism profile of the respiratory tract of healthy cattle.

Pathogen load

“But when a calf’s resistance is reduced, as a result of significant environmental challenges or where there is an overwhelming pathogen load, then animal welfare compromising and financially damaging outbreaks of pneumonia can result.”

Dr Baxter-Smith adds that while producers and vets can treat calves showing signs of pneumonia, with antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), preventing performance-limiting permanent lung damage may not be possible.

Poor performance

"Pneumonia is the most common reason for poor performance and death in growing calves, so immunity-led disease prevention should be the focus for all calf rearers, " she says.

“Sound colostrum feeding practices and vaccination, with a multi-valent vaccine that will deliver protection against both common viral and bacterial pathogens, can play an important part here, as will effective management of the key disease risk factors.

Important steps

“Improving the rearing environment, reducing stock density, not mixing age groups, isolating any clinically affected animals, using plenty of fresh bedding, and thoroughly disinfecting feeders and drinkers are all other important steps that producers can take to reduce the chance of pneumonia gaining a foothold in your calf rearing unit.”