While I was working a trade show last year, a dairyman approached me in the booth to talk about “a little respiratory problem” he was having with his calves. As we talked, it became clear he had his hands full. Not only did he manage the calf and heifer program on his 500-cow dairy, he also was expanding by another 500 cows. He was a busy guy, but even with everything going on, he took his calf and heifer program seriously. As he told me, “These calves are my future, and I need them to be healthy.”
The next day I met him and his herd veterinarian at the farm to check out the operation to see if I could help.
The perfect storm
As we approached the calf barn, the chorus of coughs tipped me off that “a little respiratory problem” was probably a big respiratory problem. Entering the calf barn, I took in the perfect storm that was brewing. One barn housed day-old calves up to 4-month-old weaned heifers. Young, immune-naïve calves were entering a barn with sick or recovering calves and heifers. Newborn calves were bunking together in shared hutches, and the group pens for weaned heifers didn’t have enough resting room or feed bunk space for the number of residents. Between overcrowding and the rampant run of respiratory disease, these young heifers were stressed to the max. Risk of respiratory disease was high. We had our work cut out for us.
Space to grow
I’m not one to criticize a producer’s operational setup — sometimes we have to work with what we have. But because the producer was genuinely concerned about the well-being of his calves, I leveled with him. I explained that he was simply asking too much of his current calf and heifer facility. The respiratory challenges would likely continue if overcrowding persisted. Overcrowding puts added stress on a calf’s immune system and increases the exposure to respiratory disease pathogens.
We talked about the impact that respiratory disease could have on replacement heifers, especially those experiencing pneumonia in the first three months of life, including reduced average daily gain, reproductive challenges, later calving ages and reduced milk production. It was important to get in front of the issue now and make changes for future success.
Getting out front
In addition to addressing the overcrowding and working with the herd veterinarian to implement a thorough treatment strategy for these sick calves, the producer also needed a strategy to help control respiratory outbreaks in the future.
We discussed a few key steps to limit the impact and severity of respiratory disease.
When I saw the producer at the trade show this year, he came to the booth with a big smile on his face and a friendly, confident handshake. While he hasn’t completely dodged last year’s respiratory challenges, he has things under control. He recently expanded his calf housing. And he’s also in the process of training a new calf manager.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR DRAXXIN: DRAXXIN has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 18 days. Do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older. Do not use in animals known to be hypersensitive to the product. See full Prescribing Information.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR DRAXXIN 25: DRAXXIN 25 has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 22 days in calves. Do not use in ruminating cattle. Do not use in animals known to be hypersensitive to the product. See full Prescribing Information.