The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Green Acres


July 11, 2018

Summer Pneumonia

in Beef Calves

Summer pneumonia in nursing beef calves is not uncommon, but occurs with low frequency. A wide variety of risk factors for summer pneumonia exist including relative success of colostrum antibody transfer, commingling of groups, weather changes, nutrition changes or deficiencies, pathogen exposure, handling stress, calving difficulty, and operation-specific risk factors like lack of labor.

The immunity a calf receives through colostrum is called passive immunity, and is the major source of immune function in the newborn. If calves receive only limited amounts of colostrum, this is termed failure of passive immunity. Calves who experience failure of passive immunity are twice as likely to get sick before weaning, and five times more likely to die before weaning than calves that have adequate passive immunity.

Commingling is a major and well-known risk factor for the development of bovine respiratory disease in calves after weaning. While mixing of sets of cattle is not normally a chief risk for nursing calves, commingling of groups from the same operation during the grazing season should not be ignored in regard to summer pneumonia risk. Moving pairs long distances to new pasture may also play a role.

Weather can be a risk factor both early in the year and during the peak summer pneumonia season. Extreme weather can play a role in the success of passive transfer of antibodies from dam to calf. Heat stress, cold stress, and unexpected pre-weaning precipitation events like snow or freezing rain can all cause weather stress than can contribute to summer pneumonia.

Nutrition stress on cows during gestation can negatively impact calf health throughout the life of the offspring. Both energy and protein have been found to have impacts on fetal growth and development in utero and post-birth. Furthermore, poor nutrition can negatively colostrum quantity and quality. Nutritional impacts of a change in diet can also impact nursing calves directly. Examples might include change to a lush pasture, change to pasture quality during drought, or creep feeding.

Certainly, trace mineral deficiency, especially copper, selenium, and zinc, can negatively affect the immune system, which may result in increased susceptibility to summer pneumonia. In addition, toxicity from minerals, such as high‐sulfate water, may impact calf health as well.

Summer pneumonia responds well to treatment if caught early. A variety of antibiotic and anti‐inflammatory drugs have been used with success. Additionally, a well‐managed herd health program including vaccination of cows and calves can greatly assist in herd immunity. Contact your veterinarian for summer pneumonia treatment advice and vaccination program recommendations.

Information for this article came from the cow sense chronicle written by Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist. The complete article is available at


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