Kieran Flatley of Harrington Farms in Kilkelly, County Mayo talks about the improvement in their weanling calves over the last few years as a result of implementing a vaccination programme to protect them against pneumonia.
Earlier this year, Kieran applied for the BEEP-S scheme. As part of the scheme, farmers had to apply before 26th April 2021. When applying, they had to indicate what actions they would undertake. See figure 1 below which outlines the actions points of the scheme.
“Vaccinating against pneumonia is cheap reassurance and ensures long-term protection for a cow” says Bandon dairy farmer, Owen O’Brien
Owen runs a 74 cow-dairy herd alongside his wife, Rosaleen, his three children, Daniel, Amy and Ciaran, and parents who remain very active on the family farm.
Like so many farms across the country, the O’Brien’s have made significant strides over the last number of years to overcome calf pneumonia outbreaks on farm. Calf pneumonia is the most common cause of death in cattle of all ages over one month old. For calves that do survive death, an outbreak of calf pneumonia can lead to significant costs in terms of reduced growth rates, lower milk yields, increased feed requirements and veterinary attention.
The cost of pneumonia
Pneumonia is a multifactorial disease meaning any factors can influence the onset of an outbreak. Two important viral causes of pneumonia are RSV and PI3 viruses while one of the most common bacterial infections can be caused by Mannheimia haemolytica. The severity of pneumonia can vary from reduced appetites, mild nasal discharge and coughing in a group of calves, to severe pneumonia causing death.
According to Department of Agriculture Quarterly Surveillance Report 2020, in the first three months of 2020, Mannheimia haemolytica was the most common pathogen identified on post-mortems of cattle examined by the regional veterinary labs.
“Pneumonia will kill or, at the very least, significantly compromise lung function and impact on heifer growth rates,” says Kevin O’ Sullivan from Glasslyn Vets. Preventing the problem from arising in the first place is key and management is reliant on a good understanding of the causes and risk factors.
What makes calves susceptible to the disease?
Calf pneumonia is a complicated, multi-factorial disease. Healthy animals can carry Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida as commensals without developing clinical signs. Infectious agents, environment, and the calf’s immunity status are all factors that can determine the onset of an infection.
A calf receiving poor-quality or inadequate levels of colostrum is one of the biggest factors affecting immunity, making them more susceptible to infection. Several stress factors such as poorly ventilated and overcrowded housing, grouping, changes in weather and transportation can also increase the risk of pneumonia. Once the calf is stressed, the ability of their immune system to fight infection is significantly reduced.
Prevention is better than cure
Disease prevention is key to avoiding the onset of pneumonia on farm. “My motto is prevention is better than cure on farm. Good quality colostrum, good hygiene practices, good housing management and an effective vaccination programme must go hand in hand to reduce the risk of pneumonia. The results are clear as I find my cows are heathier, fitter animals and don’t get any setbacks”, says Owen.
Alongside building immunity, reducing stress and minimising exposure to infection, Kevin states that one of the best routes for preventing a costly pneumonia outbreak is vaccination along with good calf management. It stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, which protects the animal against infectious pressures once they are challenged by those pathogens.
“By vaccinating against pneumonia, you are reducing the risk of outbreak, helping the animal thrive and reach their weight targets at weaning, housing and pre-breeding. This will ensure they are in optimal condition when meeting the bull in ~20 months’ time” states Kevin.
Why choose Bovipast RSP?
Owen uses Bovipast RSP in his calves from two weeks of age and gives the booster shot four weeks later. Bovipast RSP contains IRP technology which inhibits Mannheimia haemolytica from replicating which reduces the infection from developing. It provides the broadest protection against bacterial pneumonia caused by Mannheimia haemolytica and protects the animal against two of main viruses, RSV and PI3. As pneumonia can result from bacterial or viral infection, it is important to choose a vaccine that provides a broad range of cover against some of the most common infectious pathogens challenging calves.
For full protection, calves should be vaccinated with a 5 ml injection under the skin, from two weeks of age and given their booster dose four weeks later. The correct use and timing of vaccination are vital to their success and always read the manufacturers recommendations.
When vaccinating, it is recommended to vaccinate all animals in the group to minimise the infectious potential. As the disease status on every farm is different, vaccination protocols will vary. Speak to your local vet about the right strategy for your farm.
Compatible with Bovilis IBR Marker Live
Bovipast RSP can also be administered at the same time as Bovilis IBR Marker Live from three weeks of age. Vaccination with Bovilis IBR Marker Live may be required where IBR has been detected on a farm or where the risk of introduction of the disease is high i.e. purchasing stock or animals returning from shows or sales.
For more information, talk to your veterinary practitioner
See below, a virtual tour of a Teagasc shed. On the tour, we draw your attention to different areas which ensure optimal living conditions for the animals.
Bedding & Animal Space
When housing cattle, it is important to allow enough space for each animal to feed, drink and rest stress free. Animals of various sizes will have different space requirements. Always ensure that there is adequate bedding of clean, dry straw available during the housing period. Sheds should be bedded regularly to keep moisture levels low. To check, kneel in bedding for approximately 1 minute. If your knees are wet, the shed needs to be freshly bedded. The objective of bedding is to keep the animal clean and dry. Space requirement varies depending on shed type and the animal type. A suckler cow on straw will typically need 4 to 5 m2 of bedding space and weanlings on slats will need between 2 to 2.5 m2. For further information accommodation requirements see figure 1.
When housing cattle this autumn, it is important that all bedding from the previous year has been removed and the shed has been thoroughly cleaned. All areas of the shed including the feeding area should be power washed and adequately disinfected from the previous year. Feed space requirements depend on the feed availability. A general rule of thumb is to ensure each animal can feed at the same time. Typically, a suckler cow requires a feed space of 600 mm with space for two cows to pass behind. Diagonal barriers have the advantage of less bullying and reduce the amount of feed taken into the pen. Allow for the bottom rail when deciding the height of the stub wall. The animal’s neck should not normally come in contact with the top rail with diagonal feed barriers. See figure 2 below for further animal space requirements.
The objective of shed design is to ensure adequate air flow on a still day and to shelter animals on a day of high wind speeds. While this is possible for newly built sheds, older sheds may not be able to provide this function and rely on the stack effect. The stack effect is where the heat generated by animals in the building rises and is replaced by fresh air coming in at a lower level of the shed (above the wall, under the eaves or through the side sheeting/boarding). See figure 3 which illustrates this process.
Ventilation Calculations – Inlets and Outlets
The rate of ventilation is influenced by the size of the openings, the roof pitch and the difference between inlets and outlets. As a general rule of thumb, the inlet should be at least twice the size of the outlet. When designing a new building or improving an old one, it is important to calculate the area of outlet required in a roof to allow heat and moisture from the livestock to escape by natural convection. If making improvements to shed ventilation, inlet and outlet areas should be at least brought up to the sizes outlined in the DAFM specification S101. When considering inlet sheeting/boarding it is important to look at the function of each option. In certain situations either due to the layout or situation of a farm building, natural ventilation might be inadequate. In this instance, mechanical ventilation could be considered. You should consult with your agricultural consultant for the best advice on which sheeting/boarding to use which will depend on the prevailing wind direction, type of animal and number of animals to be housed in the shed.
Ensure the outlet area is clean and clear.
General required outlet sizes can be seen in figure 4. These figures can be modified based on stocking densities and roof pitch.
Inlets should be provided beneath eaves using either a continuous opening, louvered sheeting, plastic mesh, or space boarding.
The inlet area should be at twice the size of the outlet area to create a natural air flow.
Clean water access is a primary requirement of all animal housing and must be available at all times. It is important that the location and height of the trough can accommodate all animals in that shed. Water is frequently spilt around water feeders. Ensure that the area around the feeder is well drained and any spilt water can drain away from the bedding area. Avoid placing feeders in areas where spilt water will pool creating flooded areas of the shed. Aim to give access to 10% of the group to drink at any one time. Animal water intake depends on the age and stage of lactation. See figure 5 for more detail
For further information regarding sheds modifications talk to you vet, your agricultural consultant or visit the Teagasc webpage through the link here.
As part of the Green Acres program, Agriland have constructed a Calf Health and Management series. As part of that series, Suzanne Naughton from MSD Animal Health discussed some of the key challenges when purchasing calves and the role of vaccination throughout the rearing period.
While calf purchase price and the genetics of the calf are foremost in terms of making a profit on calf-to-beef systems, calf health is also a pillar which deserves significant consideration. Focusing on hygiene and vaccination is the best policy to ensuring this happens. Pneumonia and scour are the two major illnesses that compromise calf health and reduce lifetime performance.
Prevention is always better and cheaper than the cure and a health plan should be implemented on-farm. It should be noted that no amount of vaccination can overcome a lack of quality colostrum administered to the calf at birth and the bacterial and viral challenges calves face when the environment they are reared in is not up to scratch.