Reducing stress during weaning includes reducing chances of bovine respiratory disease

Weaning can be a challenging time for growing animals. The interaction and competition with other new calves can be stressful enough, but on top of that, this first time commingling increases the calves’ exposure to new disease pathogens.

The weaning period is the highest risk time period for dairy calves to develop Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD)1. These pathogens attack their already challenged immune systems, increase stress levels and affect overall performance.

Vaccine options

Warding off pathogens introduced by their new pen mates with an effective vaccination protocol is one way to reduce stress during this critical time in a calf’s life. Vaccines are available in mucosal, parenteral or injectable forms. Each type has benefits and drawbacks.

Mucosal vaccinations are given intranasally and stimulate local immunity via Immunoglobulin A. Many common intranasal vaccines contain Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3). On the downside, they do not offer protection against Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV), and according to one study, the duration of immunity is short; fewer than 12 weeks.2

According to published studies, parenteral vaccinations stimulate cell-mediated immunity for longer periods of duration, and can include protection against BVDV. However, certain vaccines must overcome interference from maternal antibodies. Some of these products are not able to do this and are rendered ineffective.3,4

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. offers products in its Pyramid® and Express® lines that have been shown to overcome maternal antibodies and protect against respiratory diseases. In the case of PYRAMID, the MetaStim® adjuvant system carries the vaccine antigen into the calf and enhances its immune response to that antigen.3,4

Start early

Consider vaccination even before commingling to build up immunity in calves since protection from maternal antibodies is waning. Although individually-housed pre-wean calves may not be exposed to the same level of pathogens as calves in group housing, they should receive those vaccinations before being placed in a group setting. Discuss vaccine options with your veterinarian to identify the type and timing that works best for your operation.


1McGuirk SM, Ruegg P. Calf diseases and prevention. University of Wisconsin-Madison UW Milk Quality 2011. Accessed online:

2Ellis JA, Gow SP, Mahan S, Leyh R. Duration of immunity to experimental infection with bovine respiratory syncytial virus following intranasal vaccination of young passively immune calves. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2013;243:1602-8.

3Zimmerman AD, Klein AL, Buterbaugh RE, Hartman B, Rinehart CL, Chase, CCL. Vaccination with a multivalent modified-live virus vaccine administered one year prior to challenge with bovine viral diarrhea virus type 1b and 2a in pregnant heifers. Bov Pract 2013;47:22-33.

4Zimmerman AD, Buterbaugh RE, Schnackel JA, Chase CCL. Efficacy of a Modified-live Virus Vaccine Administered to Calves with Maternal Antibodies and Challenged Seven Months Later with a Virulent Bovine Viral Diarrhea Type 2 Virus. Bov Pract 2009;43:35-43.


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