Perfect storm for respiratory problems
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Perfect storm for respiratory disease

July 23, 2015
POSTED BY: Greg Edwards | DVM | Managing Veterinarian | Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

While I was working a trade show about a year ago, Pete approached me in the booth to talk about “a little respiratory problem” he was having with his calves. As Pete and I talked, it became clear he had his hands full. Not only did he manage the calf and heifer program on his 500-cow dairy, he also was expanding by another 500 cows. Pete was a busy guy. But even with everything going on, he took his calf and heifer program seriously. As he told me, “These calves are my future, and I need them to be healthy.”

The next day I met Pete and his herd veterinarian, Dr. Hetzborn, at the farm to check out the operation to see if I could help.

The perfect storm
As we approached the calf barn, the chorus of coughs tipped me off that “a little respiratory problem” was probably a big respiratory problem. Entering the calf barn, I took in the perfect storm that was brewing. One barn housed day-old calves up to 4-month-old weaned heifers. Young, immune-naïve calves were entering a barn with sick or recovering calves and heifers. Newborn calves were bunking together in shared hutches, and the group pens for weaned heifers didn’t have enough resting room or feed bunk space for the number of residents.

Between overcrowding and the rampant run of respiratory disease, these young heifers were stressed to the max. Risk of respiratory disease was high.

We had our work cut out for us.  

Space to grow
I’m not one to criticize a producer’s operational setup — sometimes we have to work with what we have. But because Pete was genuinely concerned about the well-being of his calves, I leveled with him. I explained that he was simply asking too much of his current calf and heifer facility. The respiratory challenges would likely continue as long as overcrowding persisted. Overcrowding puts added stress on a calf’s immune system and increases the exposure to respiratory disease pathogens.

We talked about the impact that respiratory disease could have on replacement heifers, especially those experiencing pneumonia in the first three months of life, including reduced average daily gain, reproductive challenges, later calving ages and reduced milk production. It was important that Pete get in front of the issue now and make changes for success in the future.

Getting out front
In addition to addressing the overcrowding and working with Dr. Hetzborn to implement a thorough treatment strategy for these sick calves, Pete also needed a strategy to help control respiratory outbreaks in the future.

We discussed a few key steps Pete could take to limit the impact and severity of respiratory disease.

  1. Understand critical timelines and situations that make calves vulnerable to respiratory disease.
    High-risk times include introduction to new animals, weaning, commingling and changes in seasonal temperatures.
  1. Conduct daily health assessments.
    Look and listen for telltale signs of a potential respiratory infection such as coughing, reduced milk intake during feeding, cloudy or thick nasal discharge, or droopy ears.
  1. Work with his veterinarian to identify pathogens that commonly cause respiratory disease.
    Four major bacterial causes of calfhood respiratory disease are Mannheimia (Pasteurella) haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni (Haemophilus somnus) and Mycoplasma bovis. Knowing these pathogens can help match the drug to the bug to make treatment more successful.
  1. Ask his veterinarian about incorporating an antibiotic regimen to treat bacterial pneumonia.
    When bacterial respiratory disease becomes a threat, a long-acting antibiotic, such as DRAXXIN® (tulathromycin) Injectable Solution and DRAXXIN® 25 (tulathromycin injection) Injectable Solution, offer broad-spectrum coverage against the major causes of bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Both DRAXXIN and DRAXXIN 25 are approved to treat BRD in suckling, dairy and veal calves, but DRAXXIN 25 allows for more-accurate and convenient dosing for smaller calves.  

Clear skies
When I saw Pete at the trade show this year, he came to the booth with a big smile on his face and a friendly, confident handshake. While he hasn’t completely dodged last year’s respiratory challenges, he had things under control. He recently expanded his calf housing. And he’s also in the process of training a new calf manager.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR DRAXXIN: DRAXXIN has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 18 days. Do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older. Do not use in animals known to be hypersensitive to the product. See full Prescribing Information.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR DRAXXIN 25: DRAXXIN 25 has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 22 days in calves. Do not use in ruminating cattle. Do not use in animals known to be hypersensitive to the product. See full Prescribing Information.

DRX-00051

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