Keys to minimizing respiratory disease on your calf operation


Capitalizing on herd health and productivity begins well before a first-calf heifer steps foot into the milking parlor. Threats to calf health vary by age. In very young calves, diarrhea is the biggest health threat. But post-weaning, pneumonia becomes the biggest threat to heifer calves. By implementing three key management practices, heifers can be healthy and develop into strong breeding-age animals with thrifty immune systems.


The first requirement for minimizing respiratory disease on your calf operation is good nutrition. To have a well-developed and strong immune system, heifers must be on a sound diet. Calves in hutches can be underfed, leaving them vulnerable to infection and disease that may have otherwise been avoided. By ensuring these animals are fed properly, you are ensuring young heifers develop a strong immune system to combat common pathogens.


Animal comfort plays an important role in minimizing disease risk. Housing environments that are either too hot or too cold put stress on an animal, which in turn may suppress immune system development. Animal housing is also important in preventing nose-to-nose contact between a sick animal and a healthy animal. Much like young children who quickly and easily share a cold virus in a day care center, calves that contact each other can pass a respiratory virus among a commingled group rapidly.

Even workers can spread disease. When workers have handled sick animals, they should be aware that their hands, clothing and footwear are potentially contaminated, and they should take appropriate steps to sanitize before contacting any other animals. Simple husbandry techniques like good nutrition, basic hygiene and comfortable, clean calf housing go a long way in keeping animals healthy.


It is important to develop and implement a comprehensive vaccine protocol to help prevent the viral diseases like Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) that can pave the way for bacterial respiratory pathogens, such as Mannheimia haemolytica, which can affect the productivity of the calf or heifer for her entire life.

A modified-live viral vaccine like Pyramid® and its family of vaccines, available from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., provide broad coverage protection against many of the respiratory viruses that can wreak havoc on young heifers before they even step foot on the dairy. PYRAMID provides single-dose protection against BVD virus, IBR virus, Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3), while PYRAMID 5 + PRESPONSE SQ provides protection against these key respiratory pathogen viruses plus M. haemolytica.

Getting a calf off to a top-notch start and setting her up for an optimal production future require use of all of the keys to success. Talk to your veterinarian about ways PYRAMID vaccines can help you get there.


Pyramid and Presponse are registered trademarks of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.