Young heifers suffering from pneumonia, or Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) can take the effects with them long after calfhood, says Dr. Lance Fox, a dairy field technical specialist with Diamond V Mills Inc. That’s why it’s so important to diagnose and treat the illness before it causes economic ramifications way beyond treatment costs.

Fox stresses the significance of identifying sick calves in time. Some of the most common symptoms he looks for are:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal discharge
  • Droopy ears
  • Sunken-in, dull eyes
  • Unable or unwilling to get up

 When it comes to getting rid of pneumonia, Fox says the biggest question is, “What are we dealing with?”

Is it a virus? It is bacteria? What’s causing the illness in this calf or calves? If it is indeed a virus, antibiotics aren’t going to help.

But, Fox says, you then must still decide which antibiotic would be best to prevent a secondary bacterial pneumonia from taking hold in that calf as well. He stresses the importance of identifying the pathogen, or combination of pathogens, causing the illness.

Although one of the most common causes he’s seeing recently is bovine coronavirus, Fox says, “it’s pretty hard to look at a calf and say, ‘That’s coronavirus.’ You have to diagnose it.

“Getting the diagnosis is really the key here because if it is truly a viral problem, we need to look on the farm and say, ‘How can we prevent this virus from spreading?’ Proper diagnosis allows us to further investigate where the problem might be coming from. Is it from nose-to-nose contact between calves or originating back in the maternity pen from contact with mature cows? What is the dry cow vaccination program? Are we stimulating the right kind of antibody production in the colostrum? Are intra-nasal vaccines being utilized in the newborn calves?” Fox says it’s a multi-factorial approach.