Zoetis.co.uk uses cookies to improve your experience when browsing our website. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to their use. To find out more, view our cookie policy.

United Kingdom

Calf health essential for turning genetic investment into lifetime performance

The material contained within this page is intended to be viewed by UK farmers/professionals (e.g. Vet/SQP) only.
By continuing to browse this page, you confirm that this describes you.


For very good reason, dairy farmers invest significant time and money selecting the best genetics for their next generation heifers. Even so, lifetime performance can be determined as much by their health during the first three months of life as genetic merit, according to Zoetis vet Carolyn Hogan.

"In return for making them top priority for just 90 days, heifers can give back several years of higher performance," she says. "Good health protection and sufficient nutrition to enable an additional 100g of daily weight gain during the first two months of life can lead, on average, to 225kg extra first lactation milk yield," she says.1

"Moreover, maximum conversion of nutrients into growth takes place before weaning, so pursuing high daily weight gains during this period is advisable. However, all calves in all herds are at risk of respiratory disease, with adverse consequences for growth rates, particularly during the first three months of life when an estimated 67% of pneumonia cases occur.2

Six litres of milk replacer a day in two feeds at 150g powder per litre of water supplies sufficient nutrients for about 0.8kg/day of growth. In contrast, Ms Hogan cites a veterinary practice study involving 20 clients that found an average pre-weaning growth rate of just 0.5kg/day.3

"Achieving the higher of these two figures during the first two months of life can lead to heifers producing 675 litres more in their first lactation than at the lower growth rate found in the study," she says. "Another study identified that 70kg additional body weight at calving is associated with 1,000kg more milk on average in the first lactation."4

From Zoetis, the Cream Awards' sponsor of Dairy Vet of the Year, a factsheet written by Alex Bach suggests breeding heifers at 400 days of age and 400kg body weight, then calving at 730 days and about 670kg.5

From herd to herd, of course, Carolyn Hogan says exact weight recommendations will vary depending on breed and genetics, a more general target being for heifers to be 55% of mature bodyweight pre-breeding, and 90% pre-calving.6 "The key is clear targets for the individual farm and to ensure they are being attained," she advises.

For minimising respiratory disease, incidence is related directly to group size,7 with a recommendation for reared calves of only six to 10 per group.8 Moreover, stress associated with weaning may compromise the immune capability of calves for at least the following two weeks9 lending weight, according to Ms Hogan, to the case for early intranasal pneumonia vaccination, licensed from nine days of age.

She adds that work has shown how grouping calves at the time when milk or milk replacer is halved before weaning encourages dry feed intake and diminishes respiratory disease relapses compared with individually housed calves.10

Respiratory health is influenced by infectious agents in combination with environmental and management factors. Infectious agents include viruses and bacteria, though most outbreaks start with a virus. In young calves, BRSv and Pi3v are two of the most important.11 Blood samples taken throughout 2015 from 2,145 calves on farms with pneumonia problems showed 78% had been exposed to BRSv and 81% to Pi3v.12

Against these pathogens, vaccination with Rispoval® IntraNasal offers the earliest available protection:

  • Use from nine days of age

  • Protects against the two key respiratory viruses in young calves, BRSv and Pi3v

  • Viruses are the root cause of most respiratory health problems. Early protection helps reduce threats from secondary bacteria, e.g. Pasteurella

  • Effective in the presence of antibodies from colostrum

  • Immunity occurs five to 10 days after a single dose – no other vaccine protects earlier

  • Immunity proven to last at least 12 weeks, ensuring protection when most vulnerable

Clearly, the sums of money at stake from a heifer's birth to first calving are significant," Ms Hogan states. "With every cow's ability to turn genetic potential into lifetime performance and profitability being significantly influenced by management during the first few months of life, the return on investment of high health heifer rearing is hugely significant."

Further information on Rispoval IntraNasal can be found at www.rispoval.co.uk.



Rispoval® RS+Pi3 IntraNasal contains modified live Bovine Pi3 virus, ts strain RLB103 and modified live BRSV, strain 375, POM V. For further information, farmers should contact their veterinary surgeon or Zoetis UK Ltd , Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Tadworth, Surrey, KT20 7NS. Customer Support: 0845 300 8034, www.zoetis.co.uk. Use medicines responsibly – www.noah.co.uk/responsible. AH157/15.


1. A Bach, 2012. Nourishing and managing the dam and postnatal calf  for optimal lactation, reproduction and immunity. J Animal Sci, 90: 1835-1845.
2. ZOETIS, 2006. Market research study.
3. Kat Bazeley*, 2014. Personal communication. *Synergy Farm Health.
4. A Bach & J Ahedo, 2008. Record keeping and economics of dairy heifers. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice. 24: 117-138.
5. Zoetis, 2013. Key aspects to consider when rearing dairy calves and heifers, AH290/13.
6.AHDB Dairy Monitoring Growth fact sheet 2015
7. (i) SW Martin & AH Meek, 1986. A path model of factors influencing morbidity and mortality in Ontario feedlot calves. Can J Vet Res. 50: 15-22. (ii) C Svensson et al, 2003. Morbidity in Swedish dairy calves from birth to 90 days of age and individual calf level risk factors for infectious diseases. Prev Vet Med. 58: 179-197.
8. (i) C Svensson & P Liberg, 2006. The effect of group size on health and growth rates of Swedish  dairy calves housed in pens with automatic milk feeders. Prev Vet Med. 73: 43-53. (ii)  Ref 3.
9. LE Hulbert et al, 2011. Effects of changing milk replacer feedings from twice to once daily on Holstein calf innate immune responses before and after weaning. J Dairy Sci. 94: 2557-2565.
10. A Bach et al, 2010. Optimising weaning strategies of dairy replacement calves. J Dairy Sci. 93: 413-419.
11. GRAHAM, D.A. et al. (1998) J Vet Diagnostic Investigation 10, 43-48
12. ZOETIS respiratory serology surveillance scheme January - December 2015 (n=2145)