A veterinary surgeon is urging farmers and vets to be extra vigilant for respiratory disease in cattle, following sudden changes in the weather.

An 18°C temperature swing from minus 4°C to 14°C over four days earlier this month prompted the reminder from vet Carolyn Hogan, of animal health company Zoetis.

She said the Met Office also reported 10 air frost days for the UK in December, despite an average daily maximum for the month of 7°C. Air frost is defined as air temperature below 0°C at one metre or more above ground.

“Farmers who prefer action to prevent health problems before they occur still have time to protect cattle through pneumonia vaccination if they haven’t been done already,” Ms Hogan said.

“Pneumonia is most often started by a viral infection and there is a wealth of serology evidence that tells us respiratory syncytial virus and parainfluenza 3 are the two viruses most commonly identified on farm.

“Against these pathogens, a one-dose up-the-nose vaccine is licensed for use in cattle from nine days of age onwards, offering up to 12 weeks duration of immunity.”

A recent review of published research found a pneumonia-free rearing period can be worth £243 a head in suckler calves and £1,008 a head in dairy heifers. In suckler calves, this sum arises from treatment costs, delayed finish and carcase downgrade. In dairy heifers, treatment costs, later age at first calving, reduced first and second lactation yields, and shorter lifetimes compared with healthy ones account for the losses over the animal’s lifetime.

Zoetis vets have created the following five-point plan to help farmers realise the performance gains available from minimising respiratory disease, both severe and low grade, during winter housing:

  • improve building function
  • manage grouping and group size
  • vaccinate for parasite protection
  • monitor growth rates
  • involve your vet from the outset

Two detailed and practical Controlling Respiratory Disease booklets – one beef and the other dairy – are also available at www.zoetis.co.uk/species/beef.aspx and www.zoetis.co.uk/species/dairy.aspx

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