Minimising disease in weanlings at housing

The main problem encountered by farmers currently housing weanlings is the dreaded pneumonia. When an outbreak occurs, it has a huge financial effect, which sometimes goes undetected.

Sure, we all see the cost in an expensive weanling bought in the mart dying due to the disease and the expensive drugs used to treat animals infected, but sometimes we don’t see the hidden costs due to lack of performance, chronically infected cattle pining and the labour costs. If a plan is put into place pre-housing, these risks can be reduced dramatically.

  • Weanlings should be bought from as few sources of origin as possible and movements into the shed should be kept to a minimum. It can be a good idea to have a quarantine area in a separate air space to the main shed where the weanlings can be kept for two to three weeks before introduction to the main herd.
  • The shed itself is critical. Overcrowding should be avoided. Each weanling should have 1.1m2 of space and adequate barrier space. The shed should be well ventilated. There should be at least a 0.6m3 air outlet space per animal and two to four times this for air inlet. It’s important that the air inlet is at a level above the height of the animal and that the animal doesn’t get wet.
  • Stress should be kept to a minimum. Weaning outdoors over a gradual period of time, introduction to a creep feed and allowing weanlings to see and hear their mothers can greatly reduce the stress at weaning. It would also be advisable to avoid dehorning and castration at this time.
  • Dosing for lungworm and gut worm is very important in pre-housed animals. It’s important that the cattle are housed with a healthy pair of lungs not damaged by worms. This can be achieved by getting veterinary input into a dosing programme for the herd. Faecal egg counts can be carried out to assess the liver fluke burden and treated accordingly.
  • If there is a history of pneumonia in the herd or there are large numbers of weanlings in the shed, a vaccination programme is a must. The common viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia such as IBR, RSV, PI3, BVD, Pasturella, Mannheimia and Histophilus can be controlled using vaccines and, with veterinary input, a suitable programme can be put in place to greatly reduce the risk of an outbreak.
  • Any animals that show signs of pneumonia should be immediately removed to an isolation area that is in a separate air space to the main shed to try to reduce the risk of other animals getting sick.