Don't Let Winter Trap Your Calves with Pneumonia

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Shielding young calves from winter weather can be challenging. Sometimes, attempts to protect them from harsh winds and frigid temperatures can unintentionally disrupt proper airflow. This usually results in compromised air quality. What's worse is that it can increase the risk of pneumonia. Therefore, you're treading a fine line if your goal is to maintain calf comfort without compromising ventilation.
However, don't worry. There's a way to achieve these two goals.
Poor air quality is a frequent problem in calf barns. This is especially true for those once used for swine or poultry and converted for calves. This frequently happens due to completely closing the partition curtains to shield the elements, leading to rapid air contamination.
Instead of depending on subjective assessments, it's vital to consider the calves' microenvironment. What seems clean and fresh to us may be different from 2 feet off the ground (where the calves are).
Here are some tips and recommendations to enhance air quality and prevent pneumonia during the winter.

For indoor barns with separate pens

When dealing with indoor barns featuring individual pens, it's best to avoid direct contact between calves. Solid-panel pens that are accessible both in the front and back ensure adequate air circulation. Sidewall curtains should remain partly open even during an intense cold. Put layers of organic bedding on the calves to keep them warm. Calves should have a nesting score of "3," according to the University of Wisconsin. This implies that the bedding should be so deep that the calves' legs are unseen.

For individual hutches

Hutches are an excellent dual-purpose solution. They protect the calves from the elements while ensuring they receive natural ventilation. There's a drawback, though, especially when these hutches are positioned too close to each other. Doing so promotes disease transmission between the calves. A simple rule of thumb? Make sure there is a space between each unit of at least one hutch width.

Group pens

Group pens have their own set of challenges. When calves are housed together, nose-to-nose contact is inevitable. That's why you must take additional precautions to protect your calves' respiratory health.
It's essential to use organic bedding. Also, make sure there is fresh air ventilation and stay away from recycled alternatives. Limit the number of calves to at most 20 per pen for best ventilation. Additionally, each calf needs a resting area of at least 4 square meters. This is essential for optimal growth.
Written protocols for disease detection and treatment are vital in all housing environments for calves. These protocols should be prepared with the assistance of the herd veterinarian. Early diagnosis should also not be overlooked since early diagnosis leads to better treatment outcomes for calves. For this purpose, he suggests two reliable calf health tracking tools:  the California BRD Scoring System app from the University of California-Davis and the University of Wisconsin's Calf Health Scorer app.
There's no magical remedy that ensures calf health. Hence, colostrum management, housing, and early detection are supreme over drug therapy. If you find yourself treating 20% or more of your pre-weaned calves for respiratory issues, it's a red flag. You should seek assistance from your veterinarian. Make sure to also have a monitoring system to go along with it. This will help you and your veterinarian assess the efficacy of a specific treatment over time.

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