Combating common calf diseases

Pneumonia and scour are among the most common calf diseases.

FFG-Health-Disease from bacteria

This week’s blog investigates their causes and how to prevent these common calf diseases.


Pneumonia is the biggest killer of calves from the dairy herd, the highest risk period being during the first 12 weeks of life. Lung damage in affected calves will also reduce productivity through reduced growth rates and treatment costs – medicines, labour, vet costs. Even after the animals have apparently recovered losses can occur in dairy heifers through reduced performance in first lactation and in beef calves, long term impact on weight gain and carcass grading.



Pneumonia is caused by a mixture of viruses and bacteria. In most cases there are management factors that make the calf more vulnerable to disease.
• Poor ventilation – the bacteria and viruses which cause pneumonia survive better in moist, stale air
• Wind speed – young calves exposed to moderate draughts will use too much energy to keep warm and are more prone to disease
• Cold stress – young calves will get cold in standard UK winter temperatures
• Underfeeding – especially in cold weather. Calves will cope with low temperatures if extra nutrition are provided
• Weaning management – calves need to be gradually weaned so that nutrition intake from hard feed is sufficient prior to stopping milk feeding
• Mixing age groups – allows disease to spread from older to younger calves


1. Pneumonia control should be discussed with your vet
2. Reduce the risks by:
• Improving air quality in cattle sheds
• Preventing cold stress in young calves
• Ensuring sufficient calorie intake in cold weather, step up milk replacer rate

Download our Farmers Guide to Calf Pneumonia


Scour is the most common disease of dairy bred calves; it is caused by a combination of viruses, bacteria and parasites that can spread from calf to calf, for example rotavirus, E. coli, coccidia and cryptosporidia. An effective scour prevention program can be simplified into two areas – maximising calf immune function and minimising their exposure to disease.


• A dirty calving environment can expose new born calves to scour causing pathogens
• Low colostrum intake
• Underfeeding increases susceptibility to disease
• An unhygienic environment due to overcrowding, mixing of age groups, using pens for young calves without regular cleaning and disinfection and spreading infection from older to younger calves on the calf rearer’s clothing


• Discussing the cause with your vet – is it infection or nutritional? and then preventative strategies, for example vaccination
• Making sure your calves are receiving enough quality colostrum a minimum of 10% of birthweight ideally within the first two hours, tested with a colostrometer or refractometer.
• Keeping the calving area clean and hygienic
• Cleaning up the udder if the calf is to suckle its dam
• Maintaining a clean environment for young calves – clean and disinfect pens between batches and prevent contact between animals of different ages
• Making sure each calf receives adequate nutrition to promote immune status

Download our Farmers Guide to Calf Scour

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