Managing respiratory health is important

Calf respiratory health

Managing respiratory health in young calves can be a challenge. Maintaining good respiratory health is of the utmost importance to ensure that a calf reaches its potential as a dairy cow later in life.

Bovine respiratory health

The respiratory system of dairy calves is very vulnerable:

  • Lungs develop relatively late in life, only when the calf is 2 years old, are the lungs fully mature. As a result, they have very little reserve capacity
  • Calf airways are relatively narrow, so get easily blocked
  • Calf lungs are heavily segmented, and each segment has only one entry point for the airways. If that entry point is blocked, the entire segment does not function any more

The calf first increases mucus production which helps it to clear its airways. This is why calves often have a runny nose. If the calf fails to clear the airways this way, it is time to act.

  • Colostrum management

    Colostrum management

    Ensure calves get sufficient amounts of good quality colostrum; this improves the immune status during the first months of their life.

  • Housing


    Correct housing can improve respiratory health:

    - Separate calves from the dam within 24 hours after birth and house them separately from the cows.
    - In case of group housing, avoid a difference in age of more than 8 weeks within a group.
    - Avoid over-crowding.

  • Avoid stressful situations

    Avoid stressful situations

    Stressful situations result in lower immunity. Avoid stress situations as much as possible:

    - Consider a step down weaning program and avoid sudden changes in the ration as much as possible.
    - Ensure each animal has sufficient space at the feeding fence.
    - Avoid carrying out stressful procedures simultaneously so, for example, do not dehorn calves at the same time they are being weaned.


  • Climate


    Managing the climate correctly is a key to success:

    - Maintain a clean and dry environment
    - Avoid variations in temperature and humidity as much as possible.
    - If big differences between the temperature at day time and at night are expected, shave the calves properly. This reduces the amount of sweating and avoids the calves being wet at the moment the temperature starts going down.
    - Ventilation should be at a level of 6 air changes per hour and air should appear fresh, free of ammonia and free of other smells.
    - Calves should have sufficient space, with an airspace allowance of at least 10 cubical meters of air for a calf of 90 kg.

  • Vaccination


    Consult your vet to ensure calves are properly vaccinated.

What to do if breathing gets difficult?

Several steps can be taken to manage the respiratory health of young calves.

Download the protocol for managing respiratory health in dairy calves


Act fast to facilitate easy breathing

Unfortunately, a prevention program does not always work. It is therefore important to recognise the early signs such as coughing and a runny nose and to act upon them.

In the very early stage, it may be possible to stimulate mucus secretion, thus clearing the airways, with a product such as Farm-O-San Pulmosure LD.

How to identify the calves that need additonal support?

Measuring the rectal temperature of the entire herd to identify calves requiring additional support can be useful. Once a calf is presented with a rectal temperature of 39.5 °C or greater, it is time to consult a veterinarian.

Questions about respiratory health?

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