We have just experienced a significant weather change. There were several hot, humid days followed by several days of wet, cool weather. Sudden weather changes are a stress on cattle but they do not cause pneumonia. Diseases such as pneumonia always happen when there is an imbalance between the calf’s immune system and exposure to a disease causing agent. Since prevention is always more cost effective than treatment and we cannot control the weather, let’s review what can be controlled to minimize seasonal pneumonia issues.
Maximize the Calf’s Immune System
Nutrition: Nutrition goes beyond what ration is printed on a piece of paper. Feed quality, molds, and refusal management are also important. Evaluate bunk space to ensure that the timid calves have good access to fresh feed. Within one pen of calves there can be a wide spread in body condition and nutritional stress. Look at both the average calf and the outliers to improve your program.
Bedding Management: Clean, dry bedding is an important comfort factor for cattle. This is especially true for calves that are in a new environment or calves under 500 pounds. If your knees get wet when you kneel in the bedding, it needs more bedding.
Air Quality: High humidity and still air are the key contributors to lung stress. We have had many naturally ventilated barns install positive pressure ventilation systems to make sure there is always air moving to meet minimum ventilation requirements.
Vaccination: Vaccines work to prevent pneumonia. They work best given before significant disease exposure and when the calf is healthy and separate from other stressors. For calves, that means pre-weaning. While vaccination programs do need to work with the labor on the farm, the ultimate goal is to meet the needs of the calf. This means that calves will need to be processed more than once. Castration, dehorning, vaccination, and weaning should not be done at the same time if the goal is to get maximum immunity from the vaccine.
Minimizing Exposure to Disease
At some point in their lives, cattle will be exposed to new cattle with new bacteria and viruses. The goal is to expose a healthy calf that is well-vaccinated so they can handle the new exposure. Big problems happen when cattle are exposed to high levels of pathogens. Keep new cattle away from the sick pen. Clean water tanks weekly as most pathogens are shed in saliva. Work cattle starting with the youngest to the oldest. When working with young calves, change gloves often and disinfect equipment between calves (such as esophageal feeders).
There are many things that you can control when it comes to pneumonia prevention. If your program and management are solid and consistent, weather events are just a small bump in the road that your cattle will handle.