Know what to look for: Bovine Respiratory Disease


By Katelyn Braine, District Veterinarian
P:  03 5881 9916  | M:  0499 339 018  | E:

Cattle at saleyards

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is a common disease syndrome typically seen in feedlot cattle, but it can also be seen in extensively managed beef herds, particularly calves and weaners.

BRD is a “disease complex.” It generally requires three things for it to occur, rather than just one bug to cause the disease. These three things are stress + virus + bacteria. The disease is usually triggered during or following a stressful period by a viral infection and a subsequent infection of the airways with opportunistic bacteria.

In extensively managed beef herds, stress can be due to:

  • Social stress (weaning and/or social disruption)
  • Comingling (transport, saleyards or mixing of new mobs)
  • Feed or water changes (changes in supplementary feed or increased green lush feed following rain event)
  • Extreme weather (extended rain periods, sudden cold snaps, going from cold nights to warm days, dusty conditions)

BRD can present as pneumonia but may occasionally result in severely affected stock death. Your cattle may display nasal discharge and stand with their head and neck extended to assist them with breathing. Their breathing may be rapid and shallow or laboured. Coughing can also be seen. In the early stages of the disease, signs can be subtle but rapidly progress in a couple of days.

Treatment of individual animals involves a consult with a private vet, a course of anti-inflammatories to reduce the fever and inflammation, and antibiotics to target the bacterial infection.

The key to preventing BRD is to use a combination of vaccination and management techniques to minimise stressful events, especially stressors that occur simultaneously, such as weaning and transport.

There are several different vaccines that may cover components of BRD available. The suitability of each product will depend on your operation. If you are buying in young stock, ask if they have been vaccinated for BRD or better still, you can request a cattle health declaration at the time of purchase.

To reduce stress on your herd, you can:

  • Use low-stress stock handling
  • Minimise mixing of mobs and new introductions
  • Provide adequate rest, feed and water, especially after transport
  • Make sure your cattle received adequate nutrition
  • Avoid sudden feed and water changes
  • Minimise exposure to environmental conditions that contribute to the disease, such as dust

For more information regarding Bovine Respiratory Disease, you can contact your District Vet by calling 1300 795 299 or drop into a nearby Local Land Services office.

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