Prevention program decreases respiratory infections

In addition to diarrhea, pneumonia is the second largest cause of calf mortality. Calves that do survive still bring about extra expenses of 150 euros per calf. This amount includes treatment costs, later insemination, and reduced milk yield in the first lactation. Pneumonia in calves may be caused by several pathogens. In many cases, there is a secondary infection involved: viruses often are the ‘gate-way’ for a bacterial infection. A curative treatment with antibiotics is often inevitable, with consequences for the animal-day-dosage status on the farm. Preventive vaccination is possible to combat a number of pathogens that cause respiratory problems.

How can we reduce the risk of airway infections?

A  prevention programme to reduce the number of respiratory infections in the preweaning phase should be aimed at supporting the immune status, combined with a reduction of the infectious pressure on the farm.

A proper five-step prevention programme tackles the following aspects one by one:


  • Provide sufficient vitamins and trace minerals to the pregnant cow
  • Vaccinate the cow to induce the synthesis of specific antibodies, for a better colostrum quality
  • Shortly after birth, the calf may also be vaccinated

Colostrum management & nutrition

  • 15% (in L) of the body weight of the calf on the first day
  • 3 to 4 L within one hour after birth. Brix-value colostrum >22
  • Pay attention to hygiene: the somatic cell count (SCC) of the colostrum should be <100.000
  • Induce metabolic programming of the calf by providing a good milk replacer, forages, and concentrates

Housing & ventilation

The circumstances may vary greatly between farms. In general:

  • Raise youngstock separate from dairy cattle to prevent transmission of diseases
  • The age difference of calves within a group should be ≤ 8 weeks
  • Avoid overpopulation in the barn
  • Ensure sufficient space for each animal at the feeding site

Hygienic measures

  • All-in all-out with an empty period in-between to break infection chain
  • Make use of proper cleaning and disinfecting agents
  • Do not use high-pressure cleaning devices with animals present in the environment
  • The small droplets are a perfect transport medium for bacteria and viruses

Reduce Stress

Avoid stress with your calves:

  • Stressful situations result in a lower disease resistance
  • Consider a weaning programme, and avoid sudden dietary changes as much as possible
  • Avoid combining stressful activities, e.g., do not dehorn your calves at the day of weaning