As we near peak pneumonia season, Farmers Guardian speaks to vet Giles Bramwell, who offers some key advice on managing the disease in young calves.
Despite the high prevalence of calf pneumonia in many herds and the industry’s drive to reduce reliance on antibiotics, only about a quarter of UK cattle producers currently invest in calf vaccinations.
This is according to vet Giles Bramwell, of Bakewell Vets, who says it is vital the industry works together to improve animal health and reduce its reliance on antimicrobials, and vaccination is part of this work.
He says: “The antibiotics we have available to use are precious, and we need to conserve their use. Implementing strategies such as vaccination to prevent pneumonia is one key area where we can make a difference.”
As winter approaches Mr Bramwell says now is a good time to consider early life vaccination of young calves against pneumonia.
He says it will help protect optimal lung function and growth rates, boost animal health and help reduce antibiotic use during the peak pneumonia season between November and February.
“If you look at it in very simple terms, most pneumonia is caused by viruses. But antibiotics are only effective against bacteria, so you are only really treating secondary infections when you use them.
"The lung damage is done, so we must really shift the whole pneumonia disease management focus to prevention rather than cure.”
Mr Bramwell explains that the sooner and faster these vulnerable young calves can be protected from viral pneumonia and the permanent lung damage it causes, the better their potential lifetime productivity.
“For example, research has shown replacement heifers which do not have pneumonia as calves produce more than 500kg more milk in their first lactation.”
He adds vaccination against pneumonia brings significant benefits for beef producers too.
“When it comes to managing pneumonia in beef calves, very few of our clients have bespoke youngstock housing. The calves get brought in during the autumn after spending the summer outdoors on pasture.
“It is a stressful time and putting groups of spring-born suckler calves into housing which has poor ventilation often means you get outbreaks of pneumonia.”
He adds that in these situations, visibly sick calves are only the tip of the iceberg because others may not be growing optimally because of hidden, permanent lung damage caused by the early stages of the disease.
“That is why vaccination against pneumonia is hugely important. If you can get a vaccine into these calves before the risk period, so they are primed to fight off any viral challenge before they go into the shed, they will have much better chance of surviving the winter unscathed and growing on to be productive.
“You will also spend less money on antibiotic treatment.”
Top tips for a calf pneumonia vaccination programme
Talk to your vet early Often, a calf vaccination strategy for pneumonia is only discussed with a vet when a farm has experienced a problem. The aim should be to use early life vaccination in conjunction with best practice colostrum feeding with the aim of preventing disease occurring in the first place
Establish the correct vaccine Vets can undertake paired blood sampling to determine rising antibody levels which suggest recent infection, nasal swabbing and histopathology of post-mortem material to determine the cause.
The correct vaccination strategy, with appropriate vaccine active against the right pneumonia pathogen, at the right time, can then be chosen.
For example, if BRSV or PI3 (both common viral pneumonia causes) are identified in young calves, a fastacting intranasal vaccine administered as early as possible in life may be appropriate to provide rapid immunity.
Vaccination will reduce the sub-clinical (unseen permanent lung damage) and clinical effects of pneumonia
Using a vaccine is not a panacea for pneumonia control For young calves, any vaccination strategy must also be combined with sound colostrum feeding and good environmental management