Housing tips to beat calf pneumonia

Housing is a good time to be thinking about calf pneumonia and ways of preventing it, says Merial vet adviser Fiona MacGillivray.

Calf pneumonia is one of the most common diseases affecting young cattle. It is often a group problem, and can particularly affect housed cattle.

There are a number of factors involved: The interaction of various infectious organisms, the level of calf immunity and the environment. However, there are a number of steps farmers can take to ensure they reduce the risk.


Good housing management is critical for pneumonia prevention. Ventilation should be sufficient and appropriate to all weather conditions to ensure good air flow through the building.

This helps to prevent the build-up of ammonia, which can stop the natural defence system in the upper respiratory tract working properly.

However, draughts should be prevented as they can also make calves prone to disease.


Regular cleaning and good hygiene will ensure bedding and floors remain dry, so infectious organisms are less likely to multiply and survive. It is also important to ensure drainage is kept clear and clean.

Mixing ages

Practices that can increase the chances of calf pneumonia occurring include overstocking and mixing cattle of different ages.

Generally, older animals will have been exposed to pneumonia causing bugs and will have developed immunity against them. However, they still carry the bugs, and can pass them on to younger cattle that do not have the same immunity.


Anything that causes the animals stress can also increase the likelihood of them contracting pneumonia.

The timing of stressful procedures such as disbudding, weaning, castration etc, should, therefore, be considered carefully.

In some circumstances, vaccination can play an important role in helping to prevent calf pneumonia.


Various vaccines are available to help protect against viruses, bacteria or a combination of both and their use should be discussed with your vet, who can advise on possible vaccination strategies.


When cattle become visibly infected with pneumonia, they should be isolated as soon as they are identified to help prevent spread of disease. Fast and effective treatment is critical to minimising any potential lung damage, and ensuring a speedy recovery.