Vaccination rates low despite focus on cutting calf pneumonia

Two-thirds of cattle farmers are not using vaccination against calf pneumonia, according to a recent survey.

The Calf Matters 2018 survey, which consulted 395 beef and dairy farmers from the UK and Ireland, revealed:

  • 65% of farmers do not vaccinate
  • 20% vaccinate all calves retained/brought onto the farm under three months of age
  • 7% vaccinate all calves retained/brought onto the farm under nine months of age
  • 8% vaccinate some of the calves retained/brought onto the farm

Results also showed more than half of farmers see the biggest effect of calf pneumonia as a financial one, with increased vet and medicine costs and lost income from less-productive, dead or culled calves.

See also: Video – How to use a refractometer to test colostrum quality

The survey was run by Boehringer Ingelheim, which is encouraging farmers to develop a vaccine protocol with a vet that takes into account the specific features and risks of the production system, history of disease and diagnostic test results.

When it comes to incidence rates, 56% of farmers said they had treated less than 5% of calves for pneumonia in the past year, although 40% confirmed 5-25% of calves had required pneumonia treatment.

The four most popular management methods used by respondents against calf pneumonia were:

  1. Ensuring adequate colostrum intake within four hours of birth
  2. Housing calves in similar age groups
  3. Ensuring optimal housing conditions
  4. Using calf jackets in cold weather

Matt Yarnall, a vet and brand manager at Boehringer Ingelheim, said the results were encouraging, but with “scope for improvement”.

“I am a bit surprised that vaccination levels aren’t higher for BRD [bovine respiratory disease], when they are for other diseases, because you can’t eradicate BRD. You can reduce disease pressure and improve biosecurity, but you’re never going to get rid of those pathogens,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“It’s encouraging that colostrum and housing are being focused on and I think we will see a change in vaccination, which we see as a key part of the toolbox against BRD.”

Mr Yarnall also said he would expect a higher level of vaccination in older animals because of the disease challenge at housing when animals go inside after a long time outside and as the temperature drops and housing could suffer airflow issues.

Reducing antibiotics use in youngstock

In the targets set by the Ruma taskforce for the dairy industry in 2017, respiratory issues such as pneumonia in youngstock were highlighted as an important issue to address to cut antibiotics use.

The overall reduction targets for 2020 are:

  • To reduce total use by 20%, from the baseline of 26.2mg/PCU to 21.0
  • To reduce the use of HP CIA (highest-priority critically important antibiotic for human medicine) injectables by 50%, from the baseline of 1.075mg/PCU to 0.538.

Calf Matters Blueprint 2020

The survey results were revealed at a “Progress to 2020: Optimising calf-rearing practices” round table discussion on Wednesday 25 September, which brought together farmers, vets and industry representatives.

Delegates at the event focused on how the beef and dairy industries can take monitoring, management and disease prevention in youngstock from good to great.

Key conclusions

  • Farm-specific targets need to be set and then progress must be monitored through recording and analysis. Measuring few things well is better than a shotgun approach that becomes onerous and is not used properly
  • Environment, housing and stocking density are crucial in reducing disease challenge.
  • Colostrum management and nutrition needs to be optimal for immunity transfer and rumen development.
  • It needs a whole-team approach with everyone understanding why certain processes are important.
  • Improving resilience is key through targeted vaccination and breeding policies.
  • Stress should be minimised at all stages and considered when buying in and mixing calves.
  • Calf management should be reviewed regularly rather than doing the same thing and expecting different results.
  • An on-farm assessment using a calf health checklist should be conducted, looking for weaknesses in management. There is a checklist available at on the Calf Matter website

These will be incorporated into a useful poster that farmers can download and use on the farm for training staff and developing protocols.

The poster will be available in October at the Calf Matters website. Follow @calfmatters on Twitter for updates.