Can Your Operation Afford to Pay for Sick Days?

Early BRD intervention helps replacement heifers reach their potential

Dairy producers could be losing long-term performance and returns if bovine respiratory disease (BRD), commonly known as pneumonia, is not addressed quickly. That’s because BRD can have a significant impact on weight gain, which can delay a heifer’s introduction into the milk stream.1 

“Every day an animal is sick, it can push back its first calving,” said Linda Tikofsky, DVM, senior associate director of dairy professional veterinary services, Boehringer Ingelheim. “This increases the cost of raising the heifer for production, and because it’s in the milk stream fewer total days, the heifer’s lifetime productivity can be decreased.” When operators combine post-weaning feeding and rearing costs of $2 per every additional day, and milking losses of 2 to 10 gallons daily, it can really add up.2,3 But Dr. Tikofsky says producers can take steps to help eliminate paying for “sick days” on their operation.

“The first goal should always be prevention, especially during times of stress,” asserted Dr. Tikofsky. She recommends using good-quality colostrum in the first 24 hours after birth and following that with nutrition appropriate for the calf’s age to help its ability to fight disease. She adds that working with a veterinarian to develop a vaccination protocol against known BRD pathogens prior to grouping and breeding can also play a big role in prevention.

Next, detecting sick calves early is key to improving outcomes. “Don’t wait until they start coughing,” insisted Dr. Tikofsky. “Observe freshly weaned and stressed animals frequently for the first clinical signs, including depression, reduced feed intake, rapid breathing and raised temperature.”

When a calf is diagnosed with BRD, dairy managers can help limit losses by using a rapid- response antimicrobial.

“When the lungs are compromised, it becomes a limiting factor to the animal reaching its genetic potential,” explained Dr. Tikofsky. “Because of the swift progression of the disease, you need a fast-acting treatment to give cattle the best chance at recovering with minimal lung scarring.”

Zactran® (gamithromycin) is approved for treatment of BRD associated with all four BRD-causing bacteria: Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni and Mycoplasma bovis.4

The active ingredient in ZACTRAN, gamithromycin, has a novel molecular structure that allows it to build up in regions where immune cells reside.4,5 These cells carry ZACTRAN directly to the site of infection — the lungs — in just 30 minutes.4,5,6

In field trials, clinically ill cattle given ZACTRAN showed a visible improvement within 24 hours, including fever reduction in a majority of animals.7

“Once an animal is sick, respiratory disease can rapidly spread to others,” said Dr. Tikofsky. To decrease nose-to-nose transmission, she recommends housing calves and heifers in cross-ventilated barns or individual hutches and removing sick animals to help prevent spread.

Bovine respiratory disease is the single largest cause of death in weaned heifers and the second most common cause in pre-weaned calves.8 Producers should work with their veterinarian and nutritionist to develop vaccination, proper nutrition and stress-minimizing protocols for optimal animal performance. When stress can’t be avoided, ZACTRAN can help dairy managers put a stop to paying for unproductive sick days.



1 Van der Fels-Klerx HJ, Martin SW, Nielen M, Huirne RBM. Effects on productivity and risk factors of bovine respiratory disease in dairy heifers; a review for the Netherlands. Neth J Agri Sci 2002;50(1):27–45.

2 Doering-Resch H, Kohls D. Raising healthy replacement heifers. Prog Dairy 2010. Available at: Accessed Sept. 9, 2019. 

3 Stuttgen S, Kohlman T, Hoffman P, Zwald A. There’s nothing equal when raising heifers. Hoard’s Dairyman 2008. Available at: Accessed Sept. 9, 2019. 

4 ZACTRAN product label.

5 Huang RA, Letendre LT, Banav N, et al. Pharmacokinetics of gamithromycin in cattle with comparison of plasma and lung tissue concentrations and plasma antibacterial activity. J Vet Pharmacol Ther 2010;33:227–237.

6 Giguère S, Huang R, Malinski TJ, et al. Disposition of gamithromycin in plasma, pulmonary epithelial lining fluid, bronchoalveolar cells and lung tissue in cattle. Am J Vet Res 2011;72(3):326–330. 

7 Sifferman RL, Wolff WA, Holste JE, et al. Field efficacy evaluation of gamithromycin for treatment of bovine respiratory disease in cattle at feedlots. Intern J Appl Res Vet Med 2011;9(2):166–175.

8 USDA APHIS – Veterinary Services, NAHMS. Heifer calf health and management practices on U.S. dairy operations. 2007. Available at: Accessed Sept. 9, 2019.