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2019 weather conditions increase rates of summer pneumonia

Summer pneumonia in spring-born calves could be the next challenge producers face in 2019.

If 2019 can teach us anything, it’s that beef producers are eternal optimists. This year will test even the best of producers who have been plagued with extreme and unpredictable weather — from dangerous cold temperatures to late-season blizzards to massive flooding to wind and tornados and never-ending rain.

As a result, producers experienced increased death loss and illness during the spring calving season, delays in planting (if they got crops in at all) and excessive moisture leading to flooded pastures and hay fields.

And when the year kicks off with inclement weather, it may impact the calves born during that time from day one until harvest.

If this sounds familiar, you may think you’re in the clear now that cow-calf pairs are on grass for the summer grazing season. However, now is the time to start watching for summer pneumonia in those spring-born calves.

In a recent article for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Beef Watch newsletter, Halden Clark, DVM MS, health stewardship veterinarian at the Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, offers tips for what to watch for and how to treat calves experiencing summer pneumonia.

“Beef producers know from experience that calving season is fraught with perils for baby calves. Calving difficulties, failure of cow and calf to bond, failure of passive transfer of immunity (colostrum intake by the calf), weather, mud, scours, and injuries are all threats during calving season,” Clark writes.

“Often, once cows and calves are on summer grass, most of the calf-related risk and workload are in the rear-view mirror. It is still time for vigilance, however, because things like nursing calf pneumonia and pinkeye can take a lot of the fun out of baseball games and county fairs.”

If you notice a listless calf with droopy ears, that might be the first sign of trouble. A fever, cough or difficulty breathing are also indicators of summer pneumonia symptoms.

“In order to shed light on approximately how often summer pneumonia occurs within the beef industry, a recent survey of veterinarians suggested that across the Plains states, about 1 in 5 herds will have cases of summer pneumonia in a given year,” Clark advises.

“In a related survey of beef producers by the same research group, the number of cases of summer pneumonia appeared to correlate with herds that had fought scours in the calves, had a calving season that lasted three months or longer, or that brought in orphan calves from other farms.”

Referencing a previous study done on summer pneumonia in calves, Clark said risk factors include increasing herd size, intensive grazing and estrus (heat) synchronization. This is due to the number of “effective contacts” between calves, giving them more opportunity to spread bacteria and viruses to one another.

To reduce the risk of summer pneumonia, Clark advises producers to not only manage these associated risks, but also understand that things like inclement weather will increase the rates of sickness beyond what can be controlled.

Clark says, “Cattle across the Plains endured prolonged weather stress this past winter, and many cows appear to be thinner than usual, even in areas not affected by the historic and devastating flooding. Due to the stress on cows caused by extended cold and wet weather, it is probable that there are a large percentage of calves that have received lower quality colostrum than usual this year. This is likely to predispose them to illness of all types, including summer pneumonia.

“Reports and personal communications have also suggested that there have already been many struggles with calf health across the state of Nebraska this spring. This should lead us to consider that this summer will be an especially important one in which to keep very close tabs on calf health, and if treatment is necessary, to intervene earlier rather than later.”

To read additional research on this subject, click here.

With the challenging weather we have been experiencing in 2019, tell me, are you struggling with summer pneumonia in calves?

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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