Winter Illness in the Herd

2-22 Illness

Cows, like any other mammal, can get sick. Winter is a challenging season for livestock, and it is important to keep your herd healthy and well taken care of. As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, cows need to have well ventilated housing, substantial bedding to keep warm, windbreaks for out in the field, ample food and water supply to keep energy up, good flooring to prevent slippage, and extra care and protective treatments for their teats. Cold temperatures or poor conditions can stress cows out, which lowers their immune system, making them more apt to be sick.

Pneumonia – Both viral and bacterial pneumonia are very common. Old, weak, or new calves can develop pneumonia suddenly. Symptoms include rapid breathing, crackly lungs, no appetite, and a fever. Keeping cattle well ventilated and dry can help prevent pneumonia. It may also be worth looking into vaccinating cattle with a pneumonia specific treatment in the fall to prevent illness from even starting. Once an animal has pneumonia, they will need treatment and vet care. Treatment will need to happen quickly to prevent possible permanent lung damage.

Winter Dysentery – Caused by the coronavirus, winter dysentery is an illness that can quickly run rampant through your herd if not caught quickly. The most common route of infection is through contaminated feed or water. This could be due to poor or dirty living conditions, or even from employees wearing dirty boots and bringing bacteria into the barn. Keep bedding clean and fresh, and have employees rinse of their boots when they exit the barn to prevent the spread. Winter Dysentery makes cattle have runny diarrhea, often green or black in color, sometimes with fresh blood in it. Animals will maintain their appetite, but will stay sick anywhere from 3 days to a week. If the disease is allowed to spread (isolating the sick animal(s) is recommended) it can take up to 2 weeks to spread through the entire herd.

Winter Pinkeye – While pinkeye occurs more frequently in the summer, it is still an issue in winter. Due to the close proximity of cattle during feeding and watering in the barn, the disease is able to spread very quickly. Animals that have previously had pinkeye are typically carriers, and can pass the bacteria through nasal secretions. Animals’ eyes get itchy turn pink and sometimes cloudy if the ulcer is allowed to grow. Be sure to determine if the animal actually has pinkeye or IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis), as the two often have similar symptoms.


“Don’t Let Winter Dysentery Put a Freeze on You’re Herd’s Milk Production.” Alltech.

Gingrich, Fred. “Pneumonia in Dairy Calves.” Dairy Herd Management

Holley, Stephanie. “Caring for Dairy Cows During Cold Winter Months.” Off The Grid News

Whittier, W. Dee. “Winter Pinkeye in Cattle.” Virginia Cooperative Extension

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