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Perfect Storm for Respiratory Disease

May 12, 2021
POSTED BY: Matt Boyle | DVM | Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

While I was working a trade show a couple years ago, a dairyman approached me in the booth to talk about “a little respiratory problem” he was having with his calves. As we 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. He 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 him and his herd veterinarian 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 the producer 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 if 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, delayed age at first calving and reduced milk production. It was important to get in front of the issue now and make changes for future success.

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

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

  1. Prevention includes a healthy environment.
    Providing calves with excellent ventilation, nutrition and proper vaccination with vaccines such as INFORCE 3®  for viral infections and ONE SHOT® BVD for bacterial infections can help in preventing respiratory disease.
  2. Work with a 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 identify treatment solutions to help ensure success.
  3. 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. Develop standard operating procedures for those employees dedicated to observing animals for signs of illness. 
  4. 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.
  5. Ask the 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 injection) Injectable Solution or DRAXXIN 25 (tulathromycin injection) Injectable Solution, offers 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
The next time I saw the producer he had a big smile on his face. He had things under control, had expanded his calf housing and was 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.



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