Calf sector responds to pressures to reduce antibiotic use


Robust and resilient calves are increasingly what farmers are striving for, recognising that the early weeks and months of life are critical to the future health and production success of each animal.  As the same time, writes Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health vet, Dr Ailsa Milnes, ensuring good health and disease-free stock cuts the need for antibiotic use, at a time when concerns about antimicrobial resistance (AMR) are widespread.

According to the 2019 #Calfmatters survey, the third year of the survey from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, an increasing number of producers are seeing less pneumonia year-on-year, possibly as a result of improved immunity and reduced environmental and disease challenge.

In the winter of 2018/9, fewer respondents had to treat calves for pneumonia than in 2017/8.  This could be due to the weather – there were several “Beasts from the East” in 2017/8 – or it could be due to improvement made on-farm.

  • 2017/8 – 44% of respondents had pneumonia in more than 5% of calves
  • 2018/9 – 36% of respondents had pneumonia in more than 5% of calves

Minimising pneumonia incidence rates involves balancing the calf’s own immunity against the stresses it is put under, such as disease challenge or weather conditions. Boosting the calf’s own immunity with good colostrum management, nutrition, vaccination and housing/environment are all important and, according to the survey results, are aspects of herd management that farmers are increasingly focussing on. Encouragingly, colostrum intake is ensured by over 75% of respondents however, its quality is only measured in around 30% of cases, something that we will hopefully see improve year-on-year as the practice becomes more widely used.

Colostrum is important as it passes on aspects of the mother’s immunity to the calf. Immunity in these very early weeks can be improved with the use of an intranasal vaccine which can be given from 10 days of age.  The survey seems to indicate that, increasingly, farmers are favouring vaccination at this stage, with vaccination of baby calves leaping from 20% to 29% in only a year:

Q Regarding vaccination, please indicate whether you…..

                                                                                                                        2019    2018

Vaccinate all calves retained/brought onto farm under 3 months of age    29%     20%

Vaccinate all calves retained/brought onto farm under 9 months of age    8%       7%

RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines Alliance) and the Red Tractor scheme both advocate vaccination in the calf phase as an important tool in fighting diseases such as pneumonia and as a way, therefore, of reducing antibiotic use in the case of disease breakdowns. A later question in the survey, asked specifically about the use of antibiotics to treat or control pneumonia.  It is clear to see that the shift is to a decreased amount of antibiotics being used, a trend we all hope to see gather momentum.

Q During the past three years has your use of antibiotics to treat/control calf pneumonia increased, decreased or stayed the same.

Avoiding respiratory disease during the calf phase means that they will not suffer the the performance knock-back and possible long term lung damage that could stay with them into adulthood. 

Of course, it is always worth remembering that, just as for humans, antibiotics do nothing in the face of a viral outbreak. Preventative vaccination with either Bovalto® Respi Intranasal, which helps protect against PI3V (Bovine parainfluenza 3 virus) and RSV (Bovine respiratory syncytial virus) from 10 days of age, or slightly older calves with a vaccine such as Bovalto® Respi 3 which also protects against the common bacteria, Mannheimia haemolytica, can be a useful tool, when combined with colostrum and housing management.

Three of the main standout points when the data was reviewed were Resilience, Robustness and Responsiveness:

  • Resilience – much of the work on-farm aims to grow a resilient calf capable of fulfilling its potential
  • Robustness – attention to detail in areas such as colostrum intake and health management in the very first days of life strive towards producing a robust calf, with no setbacks that could affect them in later life
  • Responsiveness – behaviour is changing; more and more producers are vaccinating very young calves, using calf jackets, measuring colostrum and using NSAIDs when needed to name a few.  Almost 70% cited vet advice as their number one source of information and farmers are keen to learn and embrace change

The third annual #Calfmatters survey ran over the summer and over 400 farmers responded sharing information on how they manage the health and welfare of their calves, whether beef, dairy or specialist calf rearers.


Bovalto® Respi Intranasal, nasal spray, lyophilisate and solvent for suspension contains Bovine parainfluenza 3 virus (PI3V), modified live virus, strain Bio 23/A 105.0 – 107.5 TCID50 and Bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), modified live virus, strain Bio 24/A 104.0 – 106.0 TCID50. Bovalto® Respi 3 Suspension for Injection and Bovalto® Respi 4 Supension for Injection contain inactivated bovine respiratory syncytial virus, strain BIO-24, inactivated bovine parainfluenza 3 virus, strain BIO-23 and inactivated Mannheimia haemolytica, serotype A1 strain DSM 5283. Bovalto® Respi 4 also contains inactivated bovine viral diarrhoea virus, strain BIO-25 Further information available in the SPCs or from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd, RG12 8YS, UK. Tel: 01344 746957. Email:vetenquiries@boehringer-ingelheim.com. Bovalto® is a registered trademark of The Boehringer Ingelheim Group. ©2019 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd. All rights reserved. Date of preparation: September 2019. BIAH 7. Use Medicines Responsibly.


Back to Main Blog Page