Tony Moravec, DVM, Merial U.S. Large Animal Veterinary Services. Contact him at
Tony Moravec, DVM, Merial U.S. Large Animal Veterinary Services. Contact him at

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is one of the most costly disease complexes in the dairy industry. Pathogens often involved in BRD include viruses like Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), Parainfluenza 3 Virus (PI3), and Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV), as well as bacterial components in Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni and Mycoplasma bovis.

Sounds a bit daunting, doesn’t it? Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. The following tips may come in handy, especially during cold winter months:

1) Cleanliness counts. Anything frequently contacted by cattle should be kept as clean as possible. Maintaining cleanliness in hutches, stalls and bedding takes some time, but it is necessary to help prevent disease. Cleaning stanchions between uses to avoid contamination and cleaning bottles with a sterilizing solution are great ways to minimize BRD pathogen exposure.

2. Wash your hands. Yes, the very people caring for the cattle can make them sick. Avoid being a carrier of the BRD bugs, or a fomite, and wash your hands frequently.

3. Avoid unnecessary contact. Avoid commingling calves in large groups to lessen the chances of spreading disease, especially while they’re young and their immune systems are developing.

4. Ensure balanced nutrition. A healthy immune system relies on a healthy diet. Use a nutritionist and make sure milk replacers and feed rations are balanced with the right nutrients, vitamins and minerals to optimize health.

5. Minimize stress. Stress makes the immune system go bonkers, and too much of it forces the immune system to let its guard down, opening the floodgates for BRD.

6. Use proper cattle-handling techniques. Take your time. Remain calm and collected. Work with the cattle, and they will work for you. If you are impatient or agitated, the cattle will know it – leading to added stress.

7. Minimize travel. Shipping cattle long distances should be mitigated as much as possible. Lengthy trips expose cattle to harmful irritants in the form of dust, smoke and exhaust, along with an exceptional amount of BRD pathogens.

8. Vaccinate for BRD pathogens. But exercise caution – if there is a lapse in the first six tips on this list, or if tip No. 7 is not heeded, vaccine efficacy and value can and will be diminished significantly.

9. Treat early. The best outcomes result from early diagnosis and treatment. Train herdsmen to identify early clinical signs of BRD accurately.

10. Consult with your veterinarian. Your local vet is a trained animal welfare expert and can help you manage diseases like BRD. They are one of the most affordable, yet most underutilized resources. Use them.

Tony Moravec, DVM, Merial U.S. Large Animal Veterinary Services. Contact him at