Recent cold, wet weather is hard on cattle, especially calves. Such weather can promote bovine respiratory disease (pneumonia) in calves.

A USDA report on death loss of cattle in May 2006 said respiratory disease is the largest cause of death to pre-weaned calves.

Bovine respiratory disease accounts for nearly a third of the deaths in pre-weaned calves, according to the report. The total cost to the U.S. beef industry is nearly $1 billion, according to estimates. These costs stem not only from calf death loss, but also from medical and treatment expense as well as reduced performance in affected animals.

Typically, no single factor causes BRD. Usually, several factors are involved, including infectious viral and bacterial agents and stress.

Stress is a major factor in the number of sick calves. Stress can be caused by many things, including weather, transporting, handling, over crowding and poor nutrition.

Clinical signs commonly associated with the disease are: body temperature of greater than 104 degrees, decreased appetite, weakness, snotty nose, and coughing. These critical symptoms should be noted for an early diagnosis of the disease.

When cattle become infected, they have reduced performance because of poor appetite. This leads to lowered weight gains and lighter calves at weaning.

Once signs are detected, antibiotic treatment should be administered. Delaying treatment will increase the number of deaths or chronically infected animals in the herd.

As the disease progresses, severe lung damage occurs. Some damage caused by disease is irreversible. That's why early detection and early treatment are important.

Control and prevention should focus on herd vaccination. A veterinarian can help you decide which vaccines are right for your particular situation. During periods of cold, wet weather, the potential for sick calves is elevated.

For more information about cattle protection, contact your county Extension office or visit www.uaex.edu and select Agriculture.