Calf Pneumonia – Merial Report The Hidden Costs

GLOBAL and UK - Relative lung capacity is a key factor when considering respiratory disease in cattle, a disease that is costing UK farmers an estimated £80 million per year. The losses may be even greater due to the number of cattle with sub-clinical symptoms.
calendar icon 9 September 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

According to Merial Animal Health’s Veterinary Advisor Fiona MacGillivray, the relative size of cattle lungs compared to their bodyweight is one of the reasons why dairy and beef farmers should be concerned about the real impact of calf pneumonia. She points out that cattle have a much smaller relative lung capacity than, for example, humans or horses.

“For every 100 kg bodyweight, humans have on average ten litres of lung capacity, horses have eight, but cattle have only four,” she says.

“This not only makes them more vulnerable to the effects of respiratory disease, it also means that any damage to the animals’ lungs can have a profound effect on long-term production, costing the farmer money both in treatment costs and in reduced productivity”.

“Many aspects of the way that cattle are raised add to this risk, particularly those associated with housing. Over-crowding and mixing of cattle increase the risks and good housing management is absolutely crucial to reducing these.”

Estimated costs of an outbreak of bovine respiratory disease vary between £43 and £84 per affected animal, with costs rising to £104 per affected animal when re-treatments are required. Treatment costs are only one aspect of the costs involved. In the longer term pneumonia can have a negative impact on daily weight gains.

For beef producers this means longer finishing times. Dairy farmers rearing replacements can see an increase in the age to first calving, as well as subsequent negative effects on milk production and reproduction.

Furthermore, an outbreak of disease may actually affect a much larger proportion of the herd than producers realise and, therefore, could/may be generating even greater potential losses.

Ma MacGillivray says: “Studies have shown that, within a group of animals, a significant proportion are not identified as having disease yet have lesions at slaughter. This suggests that for every case of calf pneumonia that is identified, there are a lot more animals that have been affected. These animals won’t display any clinical signs but having had subclinical disease there could be a negative impact on productivity throughout their lifetime.”

Skilful stockmanship and close observation are crucial to identifying and isolating sick animals quickly and using appropriate treatment. Your veterinary surgeon will advise you on the most appropriate course of treatment required for individual sick animals as well as the measures required to control disease amongst the group.

Often the first signs of disease can be as vague as animals hanging back from the rest of the group, but you should take action if you see any of these early signs:

  • Laboured or rapid breathing (increased respiratory rate)
  • Coughing
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Mucous discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Poor appetite
  • Not eating leading to thin, weak appearance (emaciated body condition)

Sick animals should be isolated as soon as they are identified to try to limit the spread of disease within the group. Fast and effective treatment is critical to minimising any potential lung damage and helping to ensure a speedy recovery.

There are several ways to help reduce the risk from respiratory disease. These are included below:

  • Good colostrum management is critical to provide protection against disease in young calves. As a general rule, calves should ideally receive three litres of good quality colostrum within the first six hours of birth.
  • Avoid overstocking animals in a group. It is likely that a high concentration of bugs will build up in the environment. There is also a greater chance that the air will become warm and moist, thus creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses.
  • Don’t mix animals of different ages as the younger calves in the group are more susceptible to developing disease. The stress associated with mixing together such groups can lead to a less effective immune response, which is needed to help fight infection.
  • Good ventilation to ensure air flow through the building. This helps to carry away bugs and also prevents the build-up of ammonia, which can be an irritant to the animals’ natural defences, making it easier for bugs to get into the lungs . However, avoid creating draughts.
  • Regular cleaning and good hygiene help ensure that bedding and floors remain dry, so respiratory bugs are less likely to build up in the environment. It is also important to ensure adequate drainage – make sure it is kept clear.
  • Anything that causes the animals stress can also increase the likelihood of it contracting pneumonia. The timing of stressful procedures such as disbudding, weaning and castration, should therefore be considered carefully.

In some circumstances, vaccination can play an important role in helping to prevent calf pneumonia and you should discuss this with your vet.

Merial Animal Health’s antibiotic ZACTRAN® is designed specifically for the treatment and prevention of pneumonia in cattle and is becoming increasingly popular with vets. The active ingredient in ZACTRAN®, gamithromycin, concentrates in the lungs to fight bacterial infection. It is fast-acting, long-lasting and only requires a single shot, thus reducing handling and therefore additional stress to the animals.

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