A 33 per cent increase in the past year in suckler calves vaccinatedagainst pneumonia ahead of the autumn sales has been seen under theSureCalf scheme, developed by Pfizer Animal Health in conjunction withUnited Auctions (UA).

The increase is believed to be led by demand from finishers for high health status calves, for which they were prepared to pay an average premium of £48 per head at last year’s sales, according to Pfizer vet William Sherrard.

UA sales at Stirling this month and next will offer a total of 800 spring-born suckler calves vaccinated under a SureCalf protocol. The programme’s objective, according to Mr Sherrard, is to minimise the impact of respiratory disease on animal performance following the stress of the sales and moving from breeder to finisher.

The protocol requires immunisation using Rispoval 4 vaccine, giving protection against four key viruses associated with pneumonia, RSV, PI3, BVD and IBR. The two-dose vaccine course must be completed at least two weeks before sale. An optional extra is one treatment with a doramectin pour-on wormer up to five weeks before sale.

For calves to qualify for SureCalf status, sellers have to certify that the programme has been followed exactly, supported by proof of purchase for the vaccine and, if appropriate, the wormer. Qualifying animals are identified in sale catalogues and their status announced as they enter the ring.

“An increasing number of buyers appreciate the value of pre-sale disease protection and see it as a shrewd business decision,” says Mr Sherrard. “If respiratory disease can be minimised, it means reduced handling, less stress on animals and workforce, lower medicine costs and better animal performance.

“In addition to animals going through the market, the SureCalf principles are equally valid for calves from different summer locations being brought together for the winter. This is because, while pneumonia incidence may vary from year to year, it never goes away completely. Indeed, after a couple of easy years, the 2008/9 winter was quite a bad one judging from sales data for specialist pneumonia antibiotics.”

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