2013-09-30  facebook twitter rss

Reduce Pneumonia Risk At Weaning

Recent figures suggest pneumonia is the UK cattle industry’s most expensive disease, costing an estimated £50 million per year in treatment, loss of performance and mortality.

Autumn is a high risk period for pneumonia on many farms, due to weaning stress and decreasing temperatures, often coupled with housing and diet transitions, according to advice from EBLEX.

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Research shows that when 30% of a group of cattle is showing physical signs of the disease, a further 40% can be suffering lower growth rates and poorer feed conversion efficiency without visible signs of infection. Pneumonia causes inflammation of the lung tissue and airways, which may be irreversible in severe cases. It is caused by many interacting factors, rather than a simple introduction of one bacteria or virus into a group of animals. Often calves become infected with a virus first, followed by a secondary bacterial infection. When the virus and/or bacteria gets past the immune defences of the animal, pneumonia develops.

Management to maximise immune capability by reducing stress and limiting exposure to disease agents, coupled with vaccination when necessary, will reduce risk.

Aspects to consider include:

  • Ensure sufficient colostrum intake at birth
  • Provide sufficient nutrition for growth
  • Monitor and correct trace element status, particularly vitamin E/selenium

Physiological stress

  • At weaning, consider creep feeding or housing at night only to start with to minimise stress
  • Castrate and disbud calves while they are young and still benefiting from colostrum antibodies
  • Reduce stress in transport, with good animal handling


  • Avoid mixing different ages of cattle and avoid unnecessary group changes where possible
  • Keep stocking rates at moderate levels


  • Buildings must be well ventilated, but free from draughts at animal level
  • Minimise temperature variation and extremes
  • Avoid damp bedding materials

Concurrent disease

  • Monitor and treat diseases such as Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) and coccidiosis.

Vaccination may be a useful component of a pneumonia prevention strategy, but it is not a stand-alone measure. When animals are vaccinated during times of stress, or management is poor, then the vaccine is less likely to prevent disease. A vaccination protocol should be developed in consultation with the farm vet and should be scheduled to be completed at least two weeks prior to an anticipated stressful event.


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