Avoiding Respiratory Problems During Winter Housing

Preventative action against pneumonia is well worth it, farmers about to house cattle for winter are being advised.
calendar icon 7 October 2014
clock icon 2 minute read


Winter respiratory problems are costly, about £30 to £80 per affected animal, and clinical signs only show half the time, according to livestock specialists at EBLEX.

They write that investing time is worthwhile, especially where respiratory problems have been an issue in the past. Addressing problems will also have a lasting benefit to cattle health and productivity, beyond the winter housing period.

The key factors to consider in minimising respiratory diseases are ventilation, good general health and nutrition, minimising stress and vaccination.

Firstly, take a critical look at what happened last year. For example, which shed had the highest incidence of pneumonia? This is where keeping good records about animals treated for pneumonia and where they were housed can be useful.

Beware, however, that the shed itself may not be the problem, write EBLEX specialists.

It could be other issues, such as a nearby stack of bales reducing airflow or bought-in cattle being housed in the same airspace as home-bred cattle. Did they introduce, or were they susceptible to, pneumonia? That could increase the risks.

Where the shed may be a factor, there are numerous simple actions which can improve airflow and reduce the risk of pneumonia without huge investment. These include:

• Cleaning out gutters and fixing leaking pipes or water troughs to reduce moisture levels
• Ensuring adequate dry bedding area
• Removing roof ridges to increase the outlet area for warm, damp air
• Increasing the air inlet area at the sides of buildings, above animal height.

The aim is to optimise ventilation to remove moisture and bugs from the building and bring fresh air in. However, excessive air speeds should be avoided, especially for young artificially reared calves. A smoke bomb is useful to track airflow in cattle sheds. The smoke should clear in 30-45 seconds.

Optimum nutrition, health, and the wider environment, can affect stress levels. When well-managed they can help to minimise stress, thereby reducing the risk or respiratory disease. With that in mind, consider simple management principles, such as:

• Avoiding high stocking densities
• Avoiding mixing groups, especially bought-in cattle
• Minimising stress around weaning and transport
• Treatment to prevent other diseases, such as coccidiosis or BVD
• Providing good quality feed and clean water, including adequate colostrum for calves.

Calves can be vaccinated against four key viruses known to cause bovine respiratory disease and if this is in the farm’s health plan, it should be done before housing. Vaccination increases resistance to these viruses and reduces the shedding of infection from affected animals.

If cattle are being bought onto your farm from several others, talk to your vet about how to minimise the risk of spreading pneumonia.

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