Preventing and treating respiratory disease in calves

Respiratory disease is a common problem in calves and is usually associated with housing and the calves’ ability to fight diseaseBasic preventive principles are that calves should be kept clean, drywarm and receive plenty of good quality colostrum straight away. 

Calf housing must have appropriate drainage – 1 in 20 slope to drain urine away from beds. It should be protocol to remove wet, soiled bedding and replace with fresh, dry bedding. Reducing stocking density can also reduce dirt build up and disease pressure. 

Air quality and adequate ventilation is key to prevent respiratory disease. Calf accommodation should have a low level of air movement (0.2 m/s) so calves do not get cold but enough to replace stale, contaminated air within the shed with fresh air from outside. Adding spaced cladding to walls to provide greater airflow is one solution, or mechanical ventilation is another option, as seen in this video Designing buildings to improve calf health  

This farmer was very pleased with the positive-pressure ventilation tube installed in her purpose-built calf shed, which removed stale air, helped reduce levels of pneumonia, subsequent treatments and mortality. 

Newborn calves will feel cold below 10°C. It is important to provide calves with enough bedding to be able to nest in and it is worth considering calf jackets as seen here Optimising calf health – Managing respiratory disease . 

If calves receive enough colostrum at birth, many are able to fight off mild viral infections themselves. Some might develop a fever and go off their feed; in these cases, it is recommended treating with anti-inflammatories so calves continue feeding. If cases worsen or do not respond within 24-48hrs, a discussion with your vet about antibiotic treatment may be necessary.