Top tips to overcoming disease challenges when buying reared dairy-bred calves from multiple sources

Buying in animals from multiple sources can pose a disease risk. For calves originating from herds in a recognised health scheme some important information will be known, but not necessarily the whole picture and therefore all the diseases they may be carrying.

Moving is stressful for animals, and stress can make them more susceptible to diseases, such as pneumonia. Not only can transportation itself be stressful, but so too can the mixing of calves from different origins, changes in diet and housing.

However, with a lack of integration in the dairy supply chain, buying in calves from multiple sources is often necessary in order for calf rearers to fulfil their requirements.

So, what can be done to minimise risk when sourcing calves from multiple farms?

1. Buy from farms in a recognised health scheme

If a vendor is in a recognised health scheme, this can give some information and assurance around certain diseases, such as BVD, IBR and Johne’s.

2. Ask the vendor about the animal’s history

Aspects such as colostrum management and vaccination history can influence how well equipped an animal may be to fight off disease.


Colostrum is vital in ensuring the best possible start in life, but for rearers buying in young calves, this is one area they don’t directly manage. Where possible, asking the seller about their colostrum management will provide important information. Ideally, all calves should receive 3 litres (or 10% of body weight) of colostrum within 2-3 hours of birth, with another similar sized feed within 12 hours1.

Pneumonia vaccination

Bovine respiratory disease (or pneumonia) is one of the biggest known causes of mortality in calves aged 1- 6 months 2, which is why all calves should ideally be vaccinated against it.

Every farmer should put measures in place to protect the respiratory health of their calves from as young an age as possible in order to give them the best possible start and to help them reach their full potential.

Vaccination, in combination with management factors, plays an important part in protecting the respiratory health of youngstock.

The single-shot RISPOVAL® INTRANASAL vaccine can be used from as young as nine days of age, and persists for 12 weeks, ensuring calves are covered against BRSv and Pi3v (2 key viral causes of respiratory disease) as early as possible through a critical period in their life.

A South West calf rearer, who buys in calves from multiple sources, has witnessed first-hand the benefits of vaccinating for pneumonia.

Most of the calves he buys are not vaccinated for pneumonia. He was vaccinating calves on arrival using a product that required two doses, but was finding calves were still becoming diseased.

During a 14-week period in November 2016, mortality stood at 5.2% - with 24 out of 465 calves dying from pneumonia. Morbidity (number of affected calves) was 13.5%, with 63 out of 465 calves treated for pneumonia.

When pneumonia was at its worse the medicine bill was in excess of £3,000 per calendar month for the treatments alone and he was treating in excess of 60% of his animals for pneumonia during this period.

He now vaccinates calves using Rispoval® IntraNasal and from February to May this year mortality from pneumonia dropped to 2.6%, which is a 50% reduction and morbidity rates were down to 5.2%, which is down 61.5% resulting in a significant reduction in treatment rates.

3. Quarantine bought in animals

On many rearing units calves are purchased and put into groups of similar size and age, and then managed as a group going forwards.

When introducing purchased stock onto a farm with existing stock, and where they will be sharing pen or air space, where possible they should initially be managed separately (quarantined). The length of quarantine should be determined with your vet. Stressed calves will generally shed more pathogens, so pose a higher risk to existing stock. Allowing time for them to settle in, where they can be observed for signs of disease, tested, vaccinated and where required treated reduces the risk of further spread of infection.

4. Put together a health plan for your farm

Having a health plan for your farm is a requirement for most farm assurance schemes. However, using it proactively can help ensure the health of animals is maintained and productivity of the herd is optimised.

1. AHDB Dairy (2015)
2. Brickell et al 2009 Animal 3:8 1175-1182

Rispoval® RS+PI3 IntraNasal contains modified live Bovine PI3 virus and BRSV. POM-V. Rispoval®4 contains attenuated strains of BRSv and PI3 viruses supplied together with a suspension containing inactivated, adjuvanted IBR and BVD cytopathic and non-cytopathic Type 1 viruses. POM-V.

For further information please see the product SPC, or contact your veterinary surgeon or Zoetis UK Ltd, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Walton on the Hill, Tadworth, Surrey, KT20 7NS. Customer Support 0845 3008034. Always seek the advice of your medicines provider. Use medicines responsibly (