In their article, "Control, Management and Prevention of Bovine Respiratory Disease in Dairy Calves and Cows" in the March 2010 issue of The Veterinary Clinics of North America Food Animal Practice, authors Dr. Patrick Gorden and Dr. Paul Plummer review the biosecurity programs that should be implemented for young calves.   

Here's a quick review of the "inconvenient truths" about pneumonia in pre-weaned calves:

1. Newborn calves acquire immunity to disease from colostrum, and, except in limited, specific cases, vaccines will not improve the immune function of young calves.

2. Further, there is general agreement among veterinarians and the scientific community that pneumonia in cattle begins with a viral infection, which is not treatable by any available medicines.

3. The viral infection "opens the door" to infection by typically one of four types of bacteria. It's the bacterial infection that ultimately causes permanent lung damage and sometimes death.

4. Large scale surveys show, on average, less than 60% of pneumonia cases are detected in a timely manner by farm personnel.

These "inconvenient truths" dictate that by far the most effective way to control pneumonia in young calves is through proper management directed toward disease prevention. The major focus of the article by Dr. Gorden and Dr. Plummer is on biosecurity programs to reduce the incidence of pneumonia in both cows and calves. Their specific recommendations are generally the same as those given for reducing the frequency and severity of scours in newborn calves.

Maintain a rigorous maternity pen protocol:

-- Use fresh clean bedding for every calving.

-- Remove calves from maternity immediately after birth.

-- Place calves in dry, clean pens away from cows immediately after birth. See Gold Standards I, section VI., for more information on housing standards.

Insure that all calves are fed an appropriate amount of high-quality colostrum:

-- Measure the quality of all colostrum with a colostrometer, and feed only high-quality colostrum (preferably not from first-calf heifers). Click here to see video "Colostrum Feeding and Quality" with Sam Leadley, Attica Veterinary Associates Calf Management Specialist.  

-- Feed 3 to 4 quarts of colostrum in the first two hours.

-- Insure that the navel of every newborn calf is properly disinfected immediately after birth by dipping in 7% iodine solution that is freshly prepared for each calf.

-- Give calves proper nutrition: either whole (pasteurized) milk or a nutritionally equivalent milk replacer. Remember: generally the traditional 2 bottles per day is not sufficient nutrition to maintain optimal immune function, particularly in weather below 40 degrees. For more information on nutrition standards, see Gold Standards I, section V.

-- Monitor the cow herd vigilantly for Johne's disease because the ability of pasteurization to control Johne's disease is disputed.

-- Design and implement a proper vaccination program.

-- Maintain a high level of physical biosecurity.

-- Provide a continuous supply of clean, fresh air to every calf.

Always consult with your veterinarian and nutritionist for specific recommendations for your operation; for recommendations on target housing and nutrition, refer to the DCHA Gold Standards.

Source: Dairy Calf & Heifer Association