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GPS and pneumonia problems in your dairy calf enterprise

Neil Broadwater, Extension Educator-Dairy

April 11, 2009

Some farmers use a tractor-mounted Global Positioning System (GPS) – a constellation of earth-orbiting satellites – to help determine how much fertilizer and herbicide to apply in a specific location in a field when combined with other information such as soil samples, moisture content, and weed density in a computer spreadsheet.  It is also used to measure acreages and field slope, and identify field boundaries.  One Oregon State University research study has been using GPS collars on animals to collect information on each animal's location, with the date and time, every 30 seconds.  If you have been in a vehicle with a GPS system and you get off course, an automated voice announces the system is “recalibrating” to get you back on track.  GPS is helping producers to make good management decisions by developing a plan backed up by good data to help steer them in the right direction, keeping them on course. 

A study was conducted in 2007 by the USDA APHIS National Animal Health Monitoring System on “Dairy Cattle Health and Management Practices in the U.S.” (published September 2008).  Results showed the percent of unweaned dairy heifers having respiratory disease (pneumonia) on U.S. dairy farms was 12.4%. Only 5.9% of weaned heifers were affected with respiratory disease.  However, the percentage of unweaned heifer deaths caused by respiratory problems was 22.5%.  For weaned heifers, respiratory disease was the single largest cause of death at 46.5%.

Early identification and treatment of pneumonia are important.  Calves that develop chronic pneumonia seldom recover completely.  The sickness has a significant impact on the growth and future productivity of the replacement heifer.  It is essential that the factors causing this illness be addressed.  So maybe it’s time to “GPS” your pneumonia situation.  Not by using a satellite (maybe someday!), but by gathering data, analyzing it, and working with your veterinarian.  Then putting a plan in place to ‘stay on course’ to reach your destination of minimizing pneumonia incidences. Here are some ways to ‘recalibrate’ to get on the right track: 

In conclusion, using a “GPS” approach by gathering information on management practices and protocols, and developing and implementing a plan can help the calf raiser stay on course to prevent pneumonia (and even other diseases) and attain target goals for growth and frame size in the heifer enterprise.

Calf Respiratory Scoring Chart

Farm Name:  ____________________________________

Date:  _______________

Calf Scores          (Total respiratory score: 4 – watch, 5 or more – treat)

Animal ID



Nasal discharge

Cough – spontaneous or induced

Eye or ear

Total respiratory score


27 d





=  4









Calf Health Scoring Criteria





Rectal temperature – °F







Induce single cough

Induce repeated coughs or occasional spontaneous cough

Repeated spontaneous cough

Nasal discharge

Normal serious discharge

Small amount of unilateral cloudy discharge

Bilateral, cloudy or excessive mucus discharge

Copious bilateral mucopurulent discharge

Eye scores


Small amount of ocular discharge

Moderate amount of bilateral discharge

Heavy ocular discharge

Ear scores


Ear flick or head shake

Slight unilateral droop

Head tilt or bilateral droop

Developed by Dr. Sheila M. McGuirk – U of WI School of Veterinary Medicine.


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