How to tackle pneumonia in finishing cattle

Pneumonia in finishing cattle is not widely recognised to be such an issue as in youngstock, but it can increase finishing times and production costs due to reduced feed intakes and poor conversion efficiency.

That is according to vet Debby Brown, who said finishing cattle are under pressure due to the fast growth rates expected for cost-effective production.

“Stores bought in from a wide variety of sources will have an increased risk of the number of pathogens they carry, whereas home-bred stores are at a lower risk,” said Ms Brown.

The biggest influence on pneumonia is ammonia. Decreasing calf exposure to this from day one will result in a lot less problems, she added.

See also: Farmers can benefit from Eblex teleconferences

Ms Brown believes improving ventilation is key to reducing the build-up of infection and therefore its spread. She advised farmers to stand in the middle of their finishing shed to assess the situation.

“Can you smell it [ammonia]? Does it feel warm and stuffy? Is it colder inside or outside? Are other sheds in the way? Take time to look and work out what’s going on.”

Speaking at Eblex’s first teleconference for farmers, she also warned them against stacking bales in cattle housing as these cut off airflow. Roof openings are essential to help air and bugs escape, she added.

“Air coming in has to be able to get out, a smoke bomb should clear within 35-40 seconds.”

Lowering stocking densities will also reduce the spread of infection and decrease the level of stress on the animal. This will have an extra bonus of creating more feed space, increasing feed intakes, said Ms Brown.

Pneumonia prevention

Older cattle are most susceptible to infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), whereas younger ones are more likely to suffer with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or parainfluenza virus 3 (PI3), said Ms Brown.

Finishing cattle should be vaccinated with an inactivated live vaccine as soon as they arrive on farm.

“This gives them a boost, it gets in quicker and they respond quicker,” she said.

Delaying vaccination for animals to recover from transport was not advised as symptoms may occur in this time that are harder to treat.

If there is a mix of ages within one shed, it is important to vaccinate at least a week before this occurs and house younger calves at the fresher end as they will struggle to move the air, said Ms Brown.

Finishing cattle should be mucked out every three weeks to keep bedding clean and dry. Clipping their backs helps them to lose heat and reduce energy lost through sweating. This improves feed conversion efficiency, she added.

Other suggestions to minimise the risk of pneumonia included keeping groups of cattle the same throughout the finishing period and minimising nutrition changes to lower stress.

“The healthier the animals, the lower the stress and the lower the risk of disease outbreaks,” Ms Brown said.

To take part in the next Eblex teleconference on 7 November, call Fiona on 0870 241 8829, or email Topics are: How to reduce feed costs in your finishing unit – improving feed efficiency, presented by Jimmy Hyslop, and Straw-based diets for dry suckler cows, presented by Karen Stewart.