March 13, 2017

Early Protection from Respiratory Disease Helps to Avoid Future Losses

DULUTH, Georgia (Mar. 13, 2017) —The impact of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) can be tremendous and if a young calf is diagnosed with BRD the effects can carry through the rest of its life.

“Even if calves are appropriately treated for BRD and survive the initial episode, development of chronic lung disease, delayed conception and reduced milk production as an adult are all potential sequels to this event,” said Dr. Curt Vlietstra, professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). “It can have serious negative effects on future performance.” 

Long-Term Effects
Research demonstrates that calfhood BRD is associated with a reduction in average daily gain, older age at first calving, and an increased risk of culling before the end of the first lactation. Heifer rearing is a major expense for the U.S. dairy industry, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of milk production.1 Respiratory disease significantly increases that cost, at up to $16.35 per preweaned calf and $2.22 for a weaned calf.2 It is critical to protect animals from respiratory disease to maximize the return on investment in heifers.

Prevention is Key
Healthy calves have better average daily gains, resulting in earlier onset of puberty, conception and lactation.3,4 “All of that plays into being a productive member of the herd,” noted Dr. Vlietstra. “Moreover, good management practices can help avoid issues with BRD and the frustrations that go along with treatment costs and poor treatment success.”

Paying attention to the following management and environmental factors early in a calf’s life reduces its exposure to disease-causing pathogens, bolsters immunity and contributes to the calf’s health, well-being and success in the herd:

•    Minimal exposure to adult cattle; calf should be removed from the mother within one hour of calving
•    An adequate quantity of high-quality colostrum within four to six hours after birth
•    Prevent exposure to sick animals, including the boots and hands of people who care for the sick calves
•    Clean, properly-bedded, dry and well-ventilated pens
•    Clean and disinfect feeding equipment
•    Reduce stress associated with processing and transport
•    Proper nutrition

Protect with Vaccinations
Weaning is a challenging time for dairy calves. In fact, it is the highest-risk period for BRD.5 Weaning involves a stressful change in diet and increased risk of pathogen exposure due to commingling of animals that may have been previously separate. At the same time, protection from colostrum-derived maternal antibodies is declining, so it is important to consider vaccinating before weaning to increase immunity against the common respiratory pathogens. 

“It's a balancing act,” said Dr. Vlietstra. “If we properly vaccinate the cows, the level of protection in the colostrum is greatly improved. The flipside of good colostrum is the potential from those maternal antibodies to interfere with the calf's ability to respond to some vaccines.” 

Protecting against rising pathogen loads after commingling with a strategic vaccination protocol is, along with good management, an important part of disease reduction during this critical time in a calf’s life. “BI offers products in our Pyramid® line that have been demonstrated to result in a protective immune response, even when the preweaned calf is vaccinated in the face of maternal antibodies,” explained Dr. Vlietstra.6,7 

Unfortunately, no prevention or treatment plans are 100 percent successful. Frequent monitoring of calves that are acutely ill, as well as those calves that die, can provide valuable information to aid in prevention decisions. Diagnostics on the adult cows are also important and may include screening the herd for bovine viral diarrhea virus and screening sick cows for dangerous pathogens such as salmonella that can devastate calves.

For more information about BRD and prevention practices, contact your local Boehringer Ingelheim sales representative. 

About Boehringer Ingelheim
In January 2017, Merial became part of the Boehringer Ingelheim group. As the second largest animal health business in the world, Boehringer Ingelheim is committed to making the industry even better at improving animal health. With more than 10,000 employees worldwide, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has products available in more than 150 markets and a global presence in 99 countries. For more information about Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, click here.


1 Fetrow J. Culling dairy cows. In Proceedings, 20th Annu. Am. Assoc. Bovine Pract. Conv., Phoenix, AZ. 1998;102. Frontier Printers, Inc., Stillwater, OK.

2 Gorden PJ, Plummer P. Control, management and prevention of bovine respiratory disease in dairy calves and cows. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 2010;26(2):243-259.

3 Lohakare JD, Südekum K-H, Pattanaik AK. Nutrition-induced changes of growth from birth to first calving and Its Impact on mammary development and first-lactation milk yield in dairy heifers: A review. Asian-Australas J Anim Sci 2012;25(9):1338-1350. doi:10.5713/ajas.2012.12282.

4 Gabler, MT, Tozer PR, Heinrichs AJ. Development of a cost analysis spreadsheet for calculating the costs to raise a replacement dairy heifer. J. Dairy Sci 2000;83(5):1104–1109.

5 McGuirk SM, Ruegg P. Calf diseases and prevention. University of Wisconsin, Madison Milk Quality 2011. Accessed at:

6 Zimmerman AD, Klein AL, Buterbaugh RE, et al. Vaccination with a multivalent modified-live virus vaccine administered one year prior to challenge with bovine viral diarrhea virus Type 1b and 2a in pregnant heifers. Bov Pract 2013;47(1):22–33.

7 Zimmerman AD, Buterbaugh RE, Schnackel JA, Chase CCL. Efficacy of a modified-live virus vaccine administered to calves with maternal antibodies and challenged seven months later with a virulent bovine viral diarrhea Type 2 virus. Bov Pract 2009;43(1):35-43.

For all products, read and follow all label use directions, including booster requirements. Product combinations vary; read label directions to determine antigens included in each vaccine. Pyramid is a registered trademark of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.

©2017 Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.