Managing respiration is important

Calf respiration

Managing respiration in young calves can be a challenge. Maintaining good respiratory health is of the utmost importance to ensure that a calf reaches its potential as a dairy cow later in life.

Bovine respiration

The respiratory system of dairy calves is very vulnerable:

  • Lungs finish developing relatively late in life; only when the calf is 2 years old are the lungs fully mature. As a result, they have very little reserve capacity.
  • Calf airways are relatively narrow.
  • Colostrum management

    Colostrum management

    Ensure calves get sufficient amounts of good quality colostrum; this improves the immune status during the first months of their life.

  • Housing


    Correct housing can improve respiratory health:

    - Separate calves from the dam within 24 hours after birth and house them separately from the cows.
    - In case of group housing, avoid a difference in age of more than 8 weeks within a group.
    - Avoid overcrowding.

  • Avoid stressful situations

    Avoid stressful situations

    Stressful situations result in lower immunity. Avoid stress situations as much as possible:

    - Consider a step down weaning programme and avoid sudden changes in the ration as much as possible.
    - Ensure each animal has sufficient space at the feeding fence.
    - Avoid carrying out stressful procedures simultaneously, so for example do not dehorn calves at the same time they are being weaned.


  • Climate


    Managing the climate correctly is a key to success:

    - Maintain a clean and dry environment.
    - Avoid variations in temperature and humidity as much as possible.
    - If big differences between the temperature during the day and at night are expected, shave the calves properly. This reduces the amount of sweating and avoids the calves becoming wet when the temperature starts going down.
    - Ventilation should be at a level of 6 air changes per hour and air should appear fresh, free of ammonia and free of other smells.
    - Calves should have sufficient space, with an airspace allowance of at least 10 cubic metres of air for a calf of 90 kg.

  • Vaccination


    Consult your vet to ensure calves are properly vaccinated.

What to do if breathing gets difficult?

Several steps can be taken to manage the respiratory health of young calves.

Download the protocol for managing respiration in dairy calves


Act quickly to facilitate easy breathing

How do you identify the calves that need additional support?

Measuring the rectal temperature of the entire herd to identify calves requiring additional support can be useful. Once a calf has a rectal temperature of 39.5 °C or greater, it is time to consult a vet.

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