Ensure calf's place in milking herd by vaccinating them for BRSV today

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health
Early vaccines are necessary to help calves not just when they're young, but the long-lasting effects of illness in adult life.

Ben Franklin once said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This adage is especially true when it comes to vaccinating calves for bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and other respiratory diseases commonly found in a dairy herd.

“BRSV is a very common virus and is one of the main causes of pneumonia in dairy cattle,” said Stephen Foulke, DVM, DABVP, Boehringer Ingelheim. “From a welfare standpoint, we want to keep our animals healthy. Economically, it’s imperative we avoid pneumonia in calves.”

Research shows that the pneumonia calves have today can impact how heifers perform in the herd tomorrow.

“You won’t see the impact pneumonia has on a calf when they are sick with it, other than the cost to treat the animal,” Dr. Foulke continued. “Your big costs are what pneumonia does to the animal down the road, if she even makes it into the adult herd.”

According to a study by epidemiologist David Waltner-Toews, heifers that were treated for pneumonia during the first three months of life were 2.5 times more likely to die after 90 days of age than heifers that were not treated in that same time period.1 In another study, heifers without respiratory illness were two times more likely to calve and calved six months earlier than heifers with respiratory illness.

Watch for signs of BRSV

BRSV is present in most herds and is typically seen during seasonal changes, times of poor air quality or after stressful events like weaning and pen changes.

Signs that calves may be suffering from BRSV include fever, increased respiratory rate, depression, droopy ears, cough, off-feed and nasal discharge. Sometimes, signs may be more subtle, so be on the lookout for calves that take a longer time drinking from a bucket or stand longer after drinking.

Calves typically obtain immunity to BRSV and other diseases through the colostrum they drink after being born. However, as they grow and develop, they become more susceptible to disease as the colostral immunity wanes, and prevention with vaccines becomes critical.

“Vaccinating with a five-way vaccine for respiratory disease is considered a basic norm and should be considered a cornerstone of any vaccination protocol,” Dr. Foulke said. “If we can time our vaccines to take place before our high-stress events, that is ideal. For some farms, it’s when you wean calves and for other farms, it’s when you move groups. By working with your herd veterinarian, you can identify the stress points and time your vaccination protocol to better align with herd nuances.”