Dairy Calf Health
Two calves standing outside and looking at camera

Calf Health

Healthy Calves for a Lifetime of Productivity

Ensuring the health of your replacement animals is key to the long-term health and productivity of your herd. Now's the time to lay the groundwork:

  • It starts with building strong immunity to help protect young calves from infectious agents that can cause respiratory, digestive and other diseases

  • Parasite control and scours management can help minimize roadblocks to healthy growth and weight gain


Below are just a few things you can do to start your calves off right.

How can my calves build strong immunity to help fight off disease?

Because it takes months for a calf’s immune system to fully develop, colostrum (the dam’s first antibody-rich milk) and proper vaccination are critical. 


Colostrum management

  • Because the cow’s antibodies don’t cross the placenta during pregnancy, the calf relies on the antibodies provided in the dam’s colostrum
  • Colostrum absorption begins to decline shortly after birth until 24 hours of age, when absorption ceases
  • Colostrum needs to be fed to dairy calves as soon as possible after calving
  • As a rule of thumb, the calf should receive about four quarts of colostrum as soon as possible after birth, ideally within the first four hours of life
  • Colostrum replacements may be necessary if maternal colostrum is not available or in short supply
  • To help cow herds produce better quality and quantity of colostrum, provide pregnancy-safe vaccinations and solid nutrition to maintain body-condition scores between 3.0 and 3.5 before calving

Calf vaccinations

  • As maternal antibodies decline, vaccinations can help protect calves until their immune systems are fully developed
  • Vaccination protocols should be based on the disease risks in your area and the recommendations of your veterinarian
  • Common early vaccinations include those against:
    • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)
    • Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV) Types 1 and 2, including BVDV Type 1b
    • Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV)
    • Mannheimia haemolytica
    • Parainfluenza 3 (PI3)
    • Clostridium spp.
    • Pinkeye (Moraxella bovis)

What can I do to prevent parasitic freeloaders from slowing calf growth?

Internal parasites can slow growth rates.1 To help your calves keep gaining, eliminate damaging internal and external parasites.

There has to be a way to minimize calf scours outbreaks.

Calf scours, or neonatal calf diarrhea, is a common source of sickness and death in calves under a month of age. Affected calves can fall behind in performance and never catch up, so early intervention, correction of dehydration and prevention are paramount. 


Common causes

  • Viruses: rotavirus, coronavirus, bovine viral diarrhea virus
  • Parasites: Cryptosporidium and coccidia
  • Bacteria: Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens
  • Nutritional: improperly mixed milk replacer, inconsistent timing or feeding volumes


Clinical signs

  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness, depression and lethargy
  • Manure may be loose/watery and with or without the presence of blood



  • Work with your veterinarian to identify the cause, so proper treatment can be initiated
  • Analysis of fresh fecal samples and necropsies of dead calves can help determine the cause



  • Isolate sick calves
  • Train employees to treat sick calves last and to maintain biosecurity protocols for sanitation of gloves, boots and clothing
  • Educate employees that scouring calves may transmit disease to humans and hands should always be washed after working with calves before eating, drinking, smoking and before leaving the farm
  • Replace fluid and electrolytes with oral treatments; intravenous fluids may be required if calves fail to suckle
  • Your veterinarian may recommend nutritional support
  • During cold temperatures, provide warmth with deep bedding; shelter calves from wind, rain and snow
  • During warm temperatures, provide a cool, shaded, well-ventilated area to minimize heat stress
  • Depending on the cause, your veterinarian may recommend medications such as antibiotics



  • Ensure newborns receive adequate colostrum, and work with your veterinarian to monitor antibody transfer
  • Immunize the cow herd and calves against enteric pathogens to help build calf immunity
  • Keep environment clean and free of fecal matter that can carry pathogens
  • Avoid overcrowding and minimize stress
  • Segregate calves by age to avoid exposure to pathogens from older cattle, and always care for animals from youngest to oldest

Help keep calf pneumonia at bay.

Calves often don’t fully recover from pneumonia, and so early diagnosis and treatment are critical.

Common causes

  • Bacteria: Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni, Mycoplasma spp.
  • Viruses: BRSV, PI3, IBR, BVDV
  • Often associated with stress and co-infection with multiple pathogens

Clinical signs

  • Respiratory distress, coughing, nasal discharge
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever


  • Based on clinical signs and laboratory testing
  • Work with your veterinarian to determine organisms involved


  • Isolate sick calves
  • Administer appropriate antibiotics
  • Correct dehydration with oral electrolyte solutions or fluid therapy
  • Educate employees feeding calves to recognize clinical signs early using a scoring system, and treat sick calves after caring for healthy calves


  • Ensure newborns receive adequate colostrum
  • Immunize the cow herd and calves against pathogens to help build calf immunity
  • Work with your nutritionist to design a feeding program to meet the nutritional needs of a growing calf
  • Avoid overcrowding and minimize stress
  • Housing calves individually or in pairs or groups based on age prevents exposure to pathogens from older cattle

Important Safety Information

EPRINEX IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: No meat or milk withdrawal is required when used according to label. Do not use in calves intended for veal or unapproved animal species, as severe adverse reactions, including fatalities in dogs, may result.


ZACTRAN IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: For use in cattle only. Do not treat cattle within 35 days of slaughter. Because a discard time in milk has not been established, do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older, or in calves to be processed for veal. The effects of ZACTRAN on bovine reproductive performance, pregnancy and lactation have not been determined. Subcutaneous injection may cause a transient local tissue reaction in some cattle that may result in trim loss of edible tissues at slaughter. NOT FOR USE IN HUMANS. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.

Education and Resources

Three Ways to Maximize Colostrum Quality on Your Dairy

Feeding high-quality colostrum is the first step in ensuring your calves are set up for success.

Protect Your Dairy Against the Leading Cause of PI Calves: BVDV Type 1B

“Persistently infected [PI] calves are little virus factories,” said Jennifer Roberts, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “I like to think of them as a Trojan horse, because while the calf may look normal on the outside, it’s a huge threat to the operation due to the level of virus that calf is continuously shedding.”

Small Changes to Weaning Protocols Can Reduce Antibiotic Use on Your Dairy

While many conversations surrounding judicious antibiotic use on the dairy start with mastitis treatments, a key time frame to consider evaluating your antibiotic usage is during weaning.

Dairy cow

All Dairy Cattle Products

Count on Boehringer Ingelheim for a wide array of products to help keep your dairy cattle in good health and at peak performance.

1Morter RL, Horstman L. Treating for internal parasites of cattle. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, School of Veterinary Medicine. Available at: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/VY/VY-51.html. Accessed August 13, 2019.


EPRINEX®, PYRAMID® and PRESPONSE® are registered trademarks and ALPHA™ is a trademark of Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc. ZACTRAN® is a registered trademark of the Boehringer Ingelheim Group. DIAQUE® is a registered trademark of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica GmbH, used under license. ©2021 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., Duluth, GA. All Rights Reserved. US-BOV-0613-2021