Pneumonia is a disease that every farmer who rears calves will most likely have seen, and it’s one of the largest causes of calf mortality.

So why is this, when there are respiratory disease vaccines available which can help protect the respiratory health of calves?

When speaking recently to a number of farmers that had suffered outbreaks of respiratory disease on their farms, most had not thought to use respiratory vaccines as a preventative health management tool for keeping their calves healthy. Most only started using vaccines after they had suffered a disease outbreak.

A report prepared by AHDB Dairy, following a number of interviews with farmers and vets, found that vaccination on British dairy farms is generally implemented in reaction to ‘a problem’.

However, with the beef and dairy livestock industries challenged with reducing antibiotic use by 10-20% by 2020, the proactive use of vaccines is going to have to enter more into farmer and vet discussions.

The use of vaccines targeting respiratory disease is seen as a critical role in reducing antibiotics use in youngstock. So much so, since 2017 the RUMA Targets Task Force (an industry group put in place to advise on and monitor antibiotic use across the various farming sectors) has been monitoring respiratory vaccine uptake and has targeted a year on year increase between now and 2020.

A recent farmer we interviewed for a feature knows only too well the impact not having a vaccine plan in place can have on calf health and productivity.

Farmer learnings

  • Luckily, the farmer was monitoring calf growth rates and was able to get on top of the pneumonia problem before it had a devastating impact.
  • The farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, was already monitoring calf performance with his vet Alex Cooper of Fenton Vets using a tool called Calf Tracker.
  • The farm started using Calf Tracker in September last year. In October, they started to see some pneumonia cases with three out of 15 calves affected (20% incidence).
  • When cases started to increase in November, Calf Tracker quickly showed the impact respiratory disease was having on growth rates.
  • By the end of November calf numbers had increased to 33, and a further 10 calves had developed respiratory disease, increasing the total number of calves affected to 13 (nearly 40% of the group). By December it had hit 20 out of 33 calves (60% of the group)

Performance losses

Only by monitoring growth rates were they able to see the devastating impact a few cases of pneumonia was having on calf performance.

In September and October, the average daily liveweight gain (DLWG) was 0.8kg/day, which was on target for the farm, but by November, the average DLWG was 0.49kg and by December 0.29kg/day.

As soon as it was identified there was an issue, blood samples were taken and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSv) and parainfluenza type 3 virus (PI3v) isolated as the two pneumonia-causing viruses.


Calves showing signs of disease were treated with antibiotics and the remainder of the calves vaccinated with Rispoval® IntraNasal.

Vaccination rapidly reduced the number of new cases, so that by January there were only 2 new cases. By March the DLWG had recovered to 0.71kg/day. Alongside vaccination the farmer also made some changes to the stocking density and milk powder feeding in order to improve calf performance.

This case study is typical of many other farms. Vaccination alongside good management could have helped reduce the 60% of animals affected over the two-month period.

In the future as we continue to strive to use antibiotics responsibly, and to reach the targets set out by the RUMA task force, we must look to how we can prevent disease through a combination of both management changes and proactive use of vaccines.

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. http://www.zoetis.co.uk/. Always seek the advice of your medicines provider. Use medicines responsibly (http://www.noah.co.uk/responsible)