The impact of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) can be tremendous and if a young calf is diagnosed with BRD the effects can carry through the rest of its life.

“Even if calves are appropriately treated for BRD and survive the initial episode, development of chronic lung disease, delayed conception and reduced milk production as an adult are all potential sequels to this event,” said Dr. Curt Vlietstra, professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). “It can have serious negative effects on future performance.”

Long-Term Effects

Research demonstrates that calfhood BRD is associated with a reduction in average daily gain, older age at first calving, and an increased risk of culling before the end of the first lactation. Heifer rearing is a major expense for the U.S. dairy industry, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of milk production. Respiratory disease significantly increases that cost, at up to $16.35 per preweaned calf and $2.22 for a weaned calf. It is critical to protect animals from respiratory disease to maximize the return on investment in heifers.

Prevention is Key

Healthy calves have better average daily gains, resulting in earlier onset of puberty, conception and lactation. “All of that plays into being a productive member of the herd,” noted Dr. Vlietstra. “Moreover, good management practices can help avoid issues with BRD and the frustrations that go along with treatment costs and poor treatment success.”

Paying attention to the following management and environmental factors early in a calf’s life reduces its exposure to disease-causing pathogens, bolsters immunity and contributes to the calf’s health, well-being and success in the herd:

·         Minimal exposure to adult cattle; calf should be removed from the mother within one hour of calving.

·         An adequate quantity of high-quality colostrum within four to six hours after birth.

·         Prevent exposure to sick animals, including the boots and hands of people who care for the sick calves.

·         Clean, properly-bedded, dry and well-ventilated pens.

·         Clean and disinfect feeding equipment.

·         Reduce stress associated with processing and transport.

·         Proper nutrition.

Protect with Vaccinations

Weaning is a challenging time for dairy calves. In fact, it is the highest-risk period for BRD. Weaning involves a stressful change in diet and increased risk of pathogen exposure due to commingling of animals that may have been previously separate. At the same time, protection from colostrum-derived maternal antibodies is declining, so it is important to consider vaccinating before weaning to increase immunity against the common respiratory pathogens.

“It's a balancing act,” said Dr. Vlietstra. “If we properly vaccinate the cows, the level of protection in the colostrum is greatly improved. The flipside of good colostrum is the potential from those maternal antibodies to interfere with the calf's ability to respond to some vaccines.”

Protecting against rising pathogen loads after commingling with a strategic vaccination protocol is, along with good management, an important part of disease reduction during this critical time in a calf’s life. “BI offers products in our Pyramid® line that have been demonstrated to result in a protective immune response, even when the preweaned calf is vaccinated in the face of maternal antibodies,” explained Dr. Vlietstra.

Unfortunately, no prevention or treatment plans are 100 percent successful. Frequent monitoring of calves that are acutely ill, as well as those calves that die, can provide valuable information to aid in prevention decisions. Diagnostics on the adult cows are also important and may include screening the herd for bovine viral diarrhea virus and screening sick cows for dangerous pathogens such as salmonella that can devastate calves.