Farm Ireland

Friday 25 May 2018

Vaccination against pneumonia represents real value for money

Apart from being the biggest killer of cattle, pneumonia also has a big impact on beef finishing programmes

Animals requiring treatment for pneumonia take between 44 and 59 days longer to finish.
Animals requiring treatment for pneumonia take between 44 and 59 days longer to finish.

Gordon Peppard

Pneumonia is the number one killer of cattle in Ireland accounting for over 30pc of all deaths in cattle from one month to one year of age. It can cost between €55 and €108 per affected calf and up to €135 per affected animal when relapses occur.

Pneumonia in calves can be caused by a number of factors. As well as the infectious agents, there are a number of environmental and management factors that can interact and lead to a pneumonia outbreak.

Many of the infectious agents that commonly cause pneumonia are present in healthy calves and present no problems until the calves' immunity is reduced and the calf becomes more susceptible

Therefore reducing the risk of pneumonia through a vaccination programme would seem like very good value for money, particularly in high risk situations.

The main costs attributed to an outbreak of pneumonia are not only in the treatment costs but also the reduced level of performance, increased mortality and higher labour requirements.

Decreased production comes from the animal having a reduced lung capacity, which will affect daily live weight gain and in turn lead to a longer finishing time. Research has shown that where an animal required treatment for pneumonia, this animal took between 44 and 59 days longer to finish compared to an animal that didn't require any treatment.

The main risk periods

When the animals are very young there are a number of stress factors that can increase the risk of pneumonia. Once the calf is stressed the ability of their immune system to fight infection is seriously reduced. These factors include, grouping, re-grouping, change of housing, change of diet, transportation, dehorning etc.

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The immune system of the calf becomes more efficient with age and it is for this reason that pneumonia is more commonly found in the first three weeks of life.

In a calf to beef system there is quite a lot of mixing of stock as they are bought from different farms, marts or agents. During these times the calves are exposed to a variety of different infections.

When animals are housed in the autumn/winter period this also substantially increases the risk of pneumonia.


Many farmers on the Teagasc Green Acres calf to beef programme previously didn't have a vaccination programme in place on their farm, but following a few years of poor thrive and having joined the programme they have decided to implement a strong calf vaccination programme.

All calves will be vaccinated for pneumonia with a two shot programme four weeks apart. The first shot can be given from two weeks of age and the vaccine protects against both viruses (RSV and PI3) and the bacteria, Pasteurella (Mannheimia haemolytica). An IBR Live vaccine will also be administered with the first shot of the pneumonia vaccine.

This programme will cost in the region of €14-€15 per calf.

Spring born calves vaccinated with this programme should get a booster shot before housing the following autumn/winter.

Respiratory diseases can cause serious economic losses, they are most commonly diagnosed during the first three months of life and therefore it is very important to protect the young animal with vaccination.

When vaccinating, it is recommended to vaccinate all animals in the herd in order to minimise the infectious potential. As the disease status on every farm is different, vaccination protocols will vary and it is very important to check vaccination products, rates, routes and timings with your local vet.

Gordon Peppard is director of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme

Green Acres farm walk - April 12

John Lalor from Ballyfin, Co Laois is hosting a Green Acres farm walk on Tuesday, April 12.

The walk will focus on John's calf to beef system with excellent speakers from Grassland Agro and Teagasc. John will also be available to answer any questions in relation to his farming system.

The Lalors farm 100ha of land at Cloneygowan, outside of Ballyfin. The farm is a mixed farm with both tillage and calf to beef enterprises. John was in a suckler to beef production system up to a couple of years ago, but in 2014 he sold the last of his suckler cows and decided to concentrate solely on a dairy calf to beef enterprise.

He had started rearing dairy bred calves a number of years previously and by 2014 had built the numbers reared up to 100. All the calves were purchased in the April/May period and were all Angus/Hereford heifers from the dairy herd.

These calves were reared on milk replacer plus concentrate for the first 10 weeks and then went to grass for their first grazing season. Having a tillage enterprise on the farm meant that John would generally grow forage rape on the tillage fields close to the yard after the harvest. This crop provides John with a cheap wintering system for his weanlings as they had access to the crop but also a run back to a shed.

Following a second year at grass the heifers were generally housed full time on a straw bed and built up to 6-7kgs of concentrates for finishing. Heifers were slaughtered from January to March out of the shed as they became fit. The later born and poorer performing animals were returned to grass and were slaughtered in the June-July period.

The plan for John during the Teagasc Green Acres programme is to drive output on the farm and to try and sell more kilos of beef per hectare. This will involve a few adjustments to his farming practices.

A grassland plan has been put in place where John intends to make better use of grazed grass through the introduction of a paddock system, getting cattle out earlier and also reseeding some old pastures. Calves will be purchased earlier so that a stronger calf will go to grass in the first season, whilst also allowing some of the heifers to be slaughtered off of grass before the second winter period. Due to the high cost of the Angus heifer calf and the lighter carcase at slaughter, John has decided to reduce the number of Angus heifers and instead to buy in some Friesian bull calves which will be castrated and slaughtered as bullocks from 26-28 months off of grass in the third grazing season. This will allow John to reduce the cost of purchasing calves while also having a heavier carcass to sell.

The Lalor's farm walk starts at 11am. Please meet at Ballyfin church.

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