Why You Shouldn’t Wait for an Outbreak of Pneumonia Before Considering Vaccination

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 several interviews with farmers and vets, found that vaccination on British dairy farms is generally implemented in reaction to ‘a problem’1.

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 playing a critical role in reducing antibiotic 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.

Case Study

  • In September 2016 the farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, started monitoring calf performance with his vet Alex Cooper of Fenton Vets using a tool called Calf Tracker.
  • In October 2016 they started to see some pneumonia cases, with three out of 15 calves affected (20% incidence).
  • 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).
  • When cases started to increase in November, Calf Tracker was very quickly able to demonstrate the impact respiratory disease was having on growth rates.

Performance losses

Only by monitoring growth rates were they able to see the 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.


1. Implementation of vaccination strategies on British dairy farms: Understanding challenges and perspectives Imogen Richens, Pru Hobson-West, Marnie Brennan, Wendela Wapenaar School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham

Rispoval® RS+PI3 IntraNasal contains modified live PI3 virus, strain ts RLB103 and modified live BRSV, strain 375. For the active immunisation of MDA positive or negative calves from 9 days of age against BRSV and PI3 virus, to reduce the mean titre and duration of excretion of both viruses (POM-V)

Further information can be obtained from your vet or the product SPC or from Zoetis UK Ltd, First floor, Birchwood Building, Springfield Drive, Leatherhead KT22 7LP • www.zoetis.co.uk Customer support 0845 300 8034 • CustomerSupportUK@zoetis.com • Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible) • Produced June 2019 • MM-05600