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Stackyard News Aug 07

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Pneumonia Requires Antibiotic in 10% of Dairy Calves

A survey of more than 400 dairy farms has found that 10% of calves required antibiotic treatment for pneumonia last winter. Before accounting for the effect on in-contact calves, Pfizer veterinary manager Carolyn Hogan calculates that losses arising from this incidence are more than £700/year for the average 168-cow herd taking part. [1]


dairy calves

“This would increase substantially if you added the impact on in-contacts,” she says. “A major concern is that 44% of farmers said the issue of treating close contact calves at the same time had not been discussed with their vet.”
However, not all farmers are ignoring the in-contacts, although only 10% of farmers will also treat pen-mates or house-mates in most* cases, a further 8% in some* cases and 26% in a few* cases. (* ‘Most’, ‘some’ and ‘few’ were defined in the survey as ‘75-100%’, about ‘50%’ and ‘about 25%’ of cases respectively).
This “Good Start In Life” calf survey was sponsored by Rispoval® IntraNasal, Pfizer’s single-dose pneumonia vaccine for dairy calves. This sponsorship was not disclosed to farmers at the time the survey was carried out. Among the 443 participating farms, 57% had made changes in the last three years to improve calf health and/or growth rates.
The two improvements in joint top spot were better ventilation and vaccination. Next was allowing more space per calf, which Carolyn Hogan says is obviously a good move if calves are too crowded.
However, she warns that it is also possible for calf density to be too low in housing with a large air space, such that convection currents created by body heat are too weak to drive stale air out through the roof vents. “When this happens, the air circulates inside the building, with the result that calves are breathing stale air rather than fresh,” she says.
During the first three months of life, the survey finds that the second month is regarded by farmers as marginally higher risk for pneumonia than the first or third, possibly because this is when immune protection derived from colostrum is starting to wear off and before immunity derived from the environment has developed.
This would be consistent with the good colostrum practice evident from the survey: 91% of farmers have a golden rule for the timing and quantity of colostrum, the average being 2.98 litres within 5¾ hours of birth. While this is very close to the recommended three litres within six hours, Carolyn Hogan identifies a concern about the range of answers, especially where colostral intake is low.
In the extreme, some farmers said they aimed for nine litres within two hours of birth, whilst others only two litres within 12 hours. To make sure enough colostrum is taken within the target time, 32% of farmers maintain close supervision of suckling and a further 16% give a manual feed by bottle or stomach tube as a matter of routine.
As dairy herds get bigger and the workforce smaller, Carolyn Hogan says it would be easy, but wrong, to jump to the conclusion that calves come quite low down a dairy farm’s pecking order. Among the farmers taking part in the survey, 95% said new-born heifer calves represented their hopes and expectations of the future. She urges farmers to take every opportunity to discuss ways of improving calf health with their veterinary surgeon.
The prevention and treatment of pneumonia will be a feature of the Pfizer stand at the Dairy Event, where vets and livestock advisers will be available to discuss the main issues with farmers.

[1] Andrews A.H (2000) Cattle Practice Vol 8 Part 2: 109-114. This paper estimates a case of pneumonia in a dairy calf to cost £43 per treated animal on average. In the survey being reported here, the average farm reported 17 cases of pneumonia in the past year requiring antibiotic treatment. Cost estimate = 17 cases x £43/case = £731.

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