Calf pneumonia: knowledge and innovation prevent high costs!

In collaboration with the Flemish KalFit demonstration project, the Vlaio LA PneumoNEE project organized two workshops on calf pneumonia (pneumonia) in early spring. Cattle breeders were provided with interactive information about pneumonia in calves and were able to share their experiences. During these workshops, livestock breeders received answers to a number of pressing questions from practice.

Consequences of pneumonia and what will it cost me?

Respiratory diseases are a major cause of economic losses, reduced animal welfare and extensive use of antimicrobials in calves. Negative effects on drug use, growth, mortality, milk production, and fertility cost money, both in the short and long term. However, early detection limits negative impacts on profitability and animal welfare. Timely intervention, so that pneumonia does not develop into a chronic disease, prevents many problems! In the PneumoNEE project it was also found that calves that are completely cured with a lung ultrasound no longer show developmental delays. So ensuring this complete recovery is the key to minimizing economic losses! A rapid ultrasound examination of the lung makes this possible in practice.

Despite the significant consequences, livestock breeders cannot correctly estimate the negative effects of pneumonia. For example, workshop participants’ ratings were often far from the results of recent studies. Figure 1 shows the economic losses from pneumonia in calves. Increased calf mortality (x 3-4), decreased milk production in the first (-4%) and second lactation (-8%) and decreased meat production (-8 to -32 kg) are just a few of these realistic figures.

Figure 1: Economic losses from pneumonia – Photo: PneumoNEE

How is pneumonia detected?

Although calf flu appears to strike mainly in the winter, respiratory infections in calves occur year-round. So always be on the alert and get in early. This is not obvious, as calves instinctively hide signs of disease, which makes early and correct detection and treatment of pneumonia very difficult. Thus, there is a growing need for early warning systems and knowledge about clinical signs.

A livestock farmer must base his decision on treating respiratory infections on clinical signs. The decision is subjective and based on the farmer’s education and experience or based on advice from third parties. However, the lung echoes make this decision more objective. It undoubtedly shows which calves have pneumonia and need treatment.

PneumoNEE research shows that coughing is best suited for detecting pneumonia. A cough protects the airways from inhaling foreign bodies (such as dust), corrosive substances (such as ammonia) and pathogens. Respiratory infections can also trigger the coughing reflex. Moreover, rectal temperature and an accelerated respiratory rate are also indicators of respiratory infections, albeit less specific than coughing. So a cough is a good indicator that pathogens or environmental factors in the barn are affecting the calf’s airways. So coughing in the stable is definitely not normal!

It is almost impossible to distinguish pneumonia from a common cold solely on the basis of factors such as fever, cough, runny nose or rapid breathing. Rapid ultrasound examination of the lungs is the only feasible method for reliable detection of pneumonia in animals. This makes it possible to treat only animals with pneumonia and not the whole group, so that fewer antibiotics are used.

Lung ultrasound is indicated

Lung ultrasound is the ideal technique for imaging a lung injury. Portable devices with a rectal probe, used to diagnose pregnancy in cattle, are also suitable for detecting pneumonia. At the University of Ghent, the qTUS technology (Rapid Thoracic Ultrasound) or a quick ultrasound of the lung. This makes it possible to reliably diagnose pneumonia within 1-2 minutes without shaving the animals (Fig. 2). The treatment can be modified to suit the individual calf and the animals can be monitored until they are healthy again.

in the outbreak Mycoplasma bovis This selective treatment can reduce antibiotic use by more than 60%!

Figure 2: Rapid scanning lung ultrasound (QTES) images.
Figure 2: Rapid scanning lung ultrasound (QTES) images. – Photo: PneumoNO

Is sampling worth the money?

After a respiratory outbreak has been identified and its severity assessed via lung ultrasound, the pathogens should be identified by sampling. A targeted (pathogen-specific) approach is the most economically efficient, just like mastitis. Flemish laboratories, such as DGZ Vlaanderen, have a very wide range of approved tests for respiratory pathogens at affordable prices. So sampling is definitely worth its money!

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which simultaneously detects the seven major pathogens, is most commonly used. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and bacteriological studies are preferable to lung lavage (nBAL), rather than a deep nasal swab. In addition, you can monitor the current situation regarding the prevention of respiratory infections on the website of the influenza scale (DGZ and UGent). This makes it possible to apply preventive measures, such as vaccination or more stringent biosecurity measures, in a timely manner.

Previously seasonal viral infections, such as bRSV or roseola, require a modified vaccination policy. Nor is it always necessary to use antibiotics in a purely viral outbreak. mycoplasmMom Puvis
(whether it is infected with a virus or
) must be addressed in a targeted manner. If only there

Pasteurella multocida

Mannheimia Hyumetica


Histophilus somnia
), there are two possible explanations. The main causative agent (virus or mycoplasma) was lost to the outbreak due to late sampling, or other elements play a role, such as resistance-reducing factors or home climate. If he is single
The colostrum and the climate of the barn should be examined urgently.

Evaluate the stable climate for yourself

In the workshops, the livestock breeders themselves learned to assess the barn climate and two main problems related to the barn climate were discussed. The first is cold stress, which is a combination of ambient temperature and air velocity, which is considered as a “current”. For example, the perceived temperature can be 10°C much lower if the air velocity is high or if the animals are wet. The second problem in the stables is the buildup of pollutants such as ammonia and H2S, but also particulates. The particulate content of calf pens in Flanders appears to be five times higher than the EU limit for humans.

Research by Ghent University has shown that pneumonia in calves can be linked to particles in the barn, just like ammonia and air velocity. Factors such as total platelet count, carbon dioxide, or ambient temperature could not be correlated with pneumonia in this study.

More ventilation is a solution to the buildup of settled air pollutants, but it increases the risk of cold stress. Conversely, keeping the barn closed provides better protection for the calves, but also increases barn air pollutants.

It is possible to find a good balance, because the barn consists of several microclimates. By estimating the risks in the different places in the barn, the most sensitive animals can be placed in the most suitable place.

reduction problem

In the workshops, livestock farmers learned that pneumonia is an under-appreciated problem with significant economic consequences. However, new knowledge and practical innovations show that something can be done about it, better today than tomorrow!

Thomas Lowe, Stan Jorkin, Bart’s Pardon (UGent) The Zyncke Lipkens (DGZ)

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