7 top tips for calf pneumonia vaccination

Over two million calves in Ireland every year¹, but unfortunately far too many fail to reach adulthood because of disease. The incidence rate of calf pneumonia is approximately 20%¹.

Calf pneumonia is the greatest single cause of morbidity and mortality in cattle in Ireland – responsible for 32% of deaths in this age group². Hence, it is a cause of major economic loss for the cattle industry.

At a farm level, these costs are in the region of €49 per dairy calf and €93 per suckler calf4.

So what makes up these costs? Surprisingly, only 40% is represented by vets’ fees and medicines. The remaining 60% results primarily from mortality, reduced growth rates and reduced lifetime performance.

Benefits of vaccination

Vaccination against calf pneumonia in young and growing animals is a cost-effective method when implemented as part of an overall pneumonia control plan. This plan must also address other environmental and management factors that contribute to the spread of the disease.

Selecting a vaccine, which contains relevant viruses and bacteria, and observing best practice when using vaccines will optimise the protection they provide.

A recent study showed that the use of vaccines is associated with higher eight-month heifer weights. On farms where all heifers were vaccinated for pneumonia, calves reached an average of 274kg – approximately 47kg more than those that were not vaccinated³.

Below, Ashleigh Fennell – a beef and sheep farmer in Co. Carlow with a calf-to-beef system – discusses the importance of paying attention to detail.

Being a female farmer wasn’t a big deal for her, as generations of women were involved with the running of her farm.

She recognises it’s a man’s world and that you need to speak up and not be a pushover – especially at the marts. For Fennell, farming is a vocation and – although she loves it – it’s tough and very hard work.

“You have to love it to be successful. Small details make all the difference, especially when it comes to animal health,” she said.

Click here to be proactive on your farm

Seven vaccination top tips

1. Vaccine selection

A vaccine protocol should be developed with a vet and take in to account the specific features and risks of the production system, history of disease and diagnostic test results.

2. Calf health status

Resilience to disease and vaccine efficacy will be maximised if animals are healthy and receiving good-quality nutrition. Cold and stress can have a major impact in young calves. Sick animals should not be vaccinated.

3. Storage and handling

Ensure vaccines are stored and handled according to the instructions on the package insert and that refrigerators are operating at the correct temperature.

4. Timing

Follow the protocol given in the product datasheet; ensuring that the correct interval between vaccines in the primary course and subsequent boosters is observed.

Whenever possible, time vaccination to ensure immunity has developed ahead of high risk periods such as housing.

5. Accurate dosing

Use an appropriate injector and calibrate equipment before use to ensure that the correct dose is being delivered to each animal; under-dosing will affect the efficacy of vaccines.

6. Correct administration

Ensure the correct route of administration is used (intramuscular or subcutaneous) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

7. Housing and management

Assessing and addressing issues such as air quality, excessive moisture and humidity, overcrowding and mixing of ages/groups is key to pneumonia control. It also enables vaccines to work effectively.


#CALFMATTERS is a vaccination campaign from Merial Animal Health, which supports veterinary practices in encouraging farmers that have not vaccinated against calf pneumonia to vaccinate their calves by helping to reduce the overall cost of vaccination. Click here for more information


1 Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (2016) – AIM Bovine Statistics Report 2016;
2 Atkinson, 0. (2016) Welsh Dairy Heifer Report. Hybu Cig Cymru;
3 All Island Disease Report 2015, AFBI/DAFM Veterinary Laboratories;
4 Andrews, AH. (2000) Calf Pneumonia Costs! Cattle Practice 8(2).