Farmers urged to monitor for early signs of BRD (Bovine Respiratory Disease) in dairy calves

Vets are urging farmers to monitor for the very early signs of BRD (Bovine Respiratory Disease) in dairy calves amid concerns that delays could cost farmers up to £772 per animal1.

Research demonstrates that BRD affects 46% of calves before they reach nine weeks of age2, with a recent study using ultrasound imaging to assess lung damage in young dairy calves revealing that lung lesions can develop as early as 12 days of age and have long-term effects3.  Moreover, according to the AHDB 2016 fallen stock report, BRD is the most diagnosed cause of death for animals under six months of age.

Many farmers only consider the immediate treatment costs and the reduction in daily liveweight gain (estimated at an average £45 per case4) but this is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the economic impact of BRD in young dairy heifers because of the long-term knock-on effects associated with decreased longevity and production.  It is estimated that the overall cost will be closer to £772 per animal1; this includes the immediate cost of treatment, a two-week delay to first calving, a 4% and 8% reduction in first and second lactation milk yields respectively and a lifetime reduction of 109 days in-milk caused by reduced longevity.

A BRD scoring system developed by University California, Davis is a useful tool to help ensure early detection and treatment in dairy calves and reduce the impact of the disease.  A new website has been launched by Ceva Animal Health featuring the system – www.calvesbreatheeasy.co.uk – to promote best practice amongst farmers.  The website features information on reducing the impact of BRD on dairy calves focusing on prevention, early detection and treatment, as well as covering the longer-term production consequences and economic impact of the disease.  It also covers the importance of using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) alongside appropriate antibiotic therapy on all affected calves to reduce pyrexia and minimise lung consolidation, which has a negative impact on growth.

“BRD remains one of the UK’s most prevalent diseases in dairy calves which can lead to long-term knock-on effects associated with decreased longevity and production.  The lifetime total economic cost could be over £700 per dairy heifer,”comments Gemma Robinson BVM BVS MRCVS, ruminant veterinary adviser at Ceva Animal Health.  “The cost of adding a NSAID into a BRD treatment plan is minimal compared to the long-term economic losses caused by chronic lung consolidation which is why it’s important that farmers consider prevention, early detection and early treatment of the disease.”

Dr Tim Potter BVetMed PhD MRCVS, senior clinical director at Westpoint Farm Vets, adds: “Rapid disease detection and treatment are key to minimising the long-term impacts of BRD. Tools such as the UC Davis BRD scoring system can really help understand disease levels on farm and help the team rapidly identify issues with BRD.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.