Introducing pneumonia vaccination as a means of reducing antibiotic usage

editorial image

The UK has approximately 10 million cattle. Each year it is estimated that around 1.9 million of these are affected by bovine respiratory disease (BRD) with 67% of cases of pneumonia occurring in calves less than three months of age.

However based on calf numbers and sales data it is estimated that around only 37% of calves are currently receiving a respiratory vaccine.

Others suggest it’s lower than this, but even with our generous estimation, this means that there are 1.8 million calves left unvaccinated each year.

In response to the government’s O’Neill report on antimicrobial resistance, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) has identified sector-specific targets for the reduction, refinement or replacement of antibiotics in food-producing animals.

For the beef sector, reduction in use centres around calves and youngstock, particularly in the area of respiratory disease. There is also an emphasis on calves from dairy herds, where mixing animals can create a peak in disease pressure similar to children going to school for the first time.

One of the targets set by RUMA is for a year-on-year increase in the use of respiratory vaccines in all bovine youngstock between 2017 and 2020 as a way of reducing antibiotic reliance.

One real life example of how the introduction of vaccination reduced the need for antibiotic treatments for pneumonia by more than half is outlined below.

The farm in question, a well managed 1,200 cow dairy herd in the Scottish Borders, experienced problems with BRD in post-weaned dairy heifers during the period from December 2015 to April 2016. Mycoplasma bovis is endemic on the unit and therefore colostrum and milk are pasteurised in order to reduce the likelihood of transfer of infection from the dam to the calves. The farmer was not convinced of the cost benefit of vaccination; however after the introduction of Rispoval® IntraNasal in pre-weaned calves on the unit he has been very pleased with the results, more specifically the reduced rate of post-weaning pneumonia.

After analysis of antibiotic sales to the calf rearing business pre- and post- vaccination he was even more pleasantly surprised, as the number of bottles of antibiotic used for the treatment of pneumonia had reduced from 130 bottles in the period Dec 2015 to Apr 2016 to 48 bottles in the period Dec 2016 to Apr 2017, a 63% reduction in total! Clearly prevention is better than cure!

On this farm calves were vaccinated with Rispoval® IntraNasal, which can be used from just nine days of age and protects calves against BRSv and Pi3v, two key viral causes of pneumonia, for up to 12 weeks. Rispoval® IntraNasal offers a quick onset of immunity with full protection against both viruses 5-10 days after a single dose.

Reduction in antibiotic usage is one advantage of good respiratory health; however we also need to consider the long term production benefits. Pneumonia in young dairy calves has been associated with reduced growth rates, increased age at first calving, reduced milk yields in first and second lactation and a reduced longevity in the herd. Poor respiratory health in beef calves can impact both growth rates and feed conversion efficiency, resulting in losses through, for example, increased feed costs, increased finishing times, reduced sale weights and carcass downgrades.

Protecting the respiratory health of youngstock is vital to protecting the future performance of the herd, whether dairy or beef.

For more case studies on how to reduce number of cases of BRD on dairy and beef farms, please visit

If you wish to find out more about the sector specific targets set by RUMA, visit