top of page

Travel Fever - Fatal Outcome of a Long Transport

by Caroline Fox

What is "Travel Fever?"

"Travel Fever" or "Shipping Fever" clinically entitled as "Bovine Respiratory Disease" (BRD), is a complex, bacterial infection most often caused by Pasteurella Haemolitica and sometimes P. Multicida and Haemophilus Somnus. In other words, pneumonia. It is frequently diagnosed in calves that have endured the stress of long transport and is often fatal. Currently, (BRD) is the most common and costly disease affecting the beef industry in the world.

What age of cattle does it usually affect?

Calves of any age, but often within four weeks of weaning. With market calves, clinical signs usually occur anywhere from 2-30 days after purchase.

What can bring it on?

Stress of any kind. For instance, a hard birth, becoming chilled after birth, and maybe not nursing soon enough. Possibly a drafty barn or a humid barn with bad ventilation. Saturated bedding along with strong ammonia fumes that are prone to irritate lungs and airways; preventing healthy air and living conditions.

Another big stressor is lack of antibodies from colostrum. Because the antibodies diminish over time, young calves that have been separated early from their dam consequently lose much of their temporary immunity. Calves that either did not get colostrum or not enough colostrum, also become at risk.

Other stressful conditions such as extreme weather changes such as hot days and cold nights are thought to contribute. Robert Cope, DVM (Salmon, Idaho) says these cases that are attributed to extreme weather variables, are often due to Pasteurella. “Those don’t need a virus to get started. A virus vaccine such as (IBR, BVD, etc.) won’t protect calves in this instance, but a Pasteurella vaccine will,” he explains.

Nutritional deficiencies of minerals such as copper or selenium may also be a factor.

What are the symptoms?

Veterinarian Dr. Tommy Heffernan, says that coughing and increased frequency of coughing can sometimes be an indicator of how severe pneumonia might be. Besides coughing, he explains the first signs to look for are: Depression as indicated by drooping ears, an extended head, a humped or bowed back, and self-isolation away from other cattle. Also, look for a snotty or crusted nose. As calves get sicker, they will not want to eat and have faster, more labored breathing. In severe cases, the calf might breathe with his mouth open or with a grunting sound as the air is forced out of it's impaired lungs.

Most sick calves will have a fever of 104°-108°F. He recommends taking temperatures in the morning before 10:00 a.m., as hot afternoons can falsely elevate a temperature.

How did it start?

Most of the pathogens that can cause lung infections are already present in the calf’s respiratory tract and become a problem only when his or her immune defenses are compromised.

What are some ways it is transmitted?

Freshly calved cows shed more viruses during the stress of calving. When calves are in the same airspace as adult cows, there is an increase in the risk of viral pneumonia whether or not the adult cow is symptomatic.

What damage is done to the lungs?

Primary viral pneumonia may be mild, but secondary bacterial invaders may move in after tissues are damaged by a virus. For instance, a viral infection frequently destroys the tiny cilia on the lining of the windpipe and bronchi, so foreign material (including bacteria) can no longer be moved up and out of the airways.

Bacterial pneumonia is more dangerous and apt to kill the calf than is a viral infection. Viral pneumonia may not be significant and will run its course without treatment — unless a secondary bacterial infection (such as Pasteurella) turns it into a pneumonia outbreak that can move through a group of calves.

Can it be prevented?

If more than one calf is affected and considering this can be a multi-faceted problem, there are several variables to examine that are outlined above in the question, "What can bring it on?" One must examine those variables and see if they apply to their farm

and livestock situation, and then remedy them.

Another key consideration is, is the animal healthy and fit enough to transport?

According to Dr. Matthew Duffy of Duffy Veterinary Services, who has spent over 20 years in the feed-yards and grow-yards of the Oklahoma Panhandle, and regularly sees shipping fever, to him, there are three main factors for prevention:

1. Nutrition

2. Vaccination

3. Basic husbandry.

Concerning nutrition, Dr. Duffy feels having a good nutritional and mineral plan in place is key for prevention. “I’ve found over time a lot of people don’t even have a good mineral program,” Duffy says. “The concept everyone has is "Well, I put out a red block, and I put out a white block, and I put out a yellow block, and that’s what my cows lick on" – well, that doesn’t cut it. At any rate, they need a good, solid, loose mineral program where those cows can really build up their immune system.”

Other factors to consider

  • Calves are more likely to get sick in the fall than at any other time of the year.

  • Calves that are not weaned when marketed are much more likely to get sick.

  • Calves that must be castrated after marketing are more likely to contract BRD.

  • Adverse weather probably plays the single largest role in the likelihood of a large number of calves becoming sick.

  • The past history of the source of the calves (where they were purchased from) as well as that of your own farm should be considered.

  • Use good low-stress handling practices. Rough handling increases losses. Well designed and well-maintained equipment is also essential to prevent injuries and lessen stress.

  • Do not overload trucks. Animals are more likely to go down and likely be injured in an overloaded truck.

  • Good driving practices are essential. Sudden stops and rapid accelerations are likely to throw animals off balance and be an endangerment.

Supportive Care and advice before a long trip

After you have developed a solid nutritional plan, Dr. Duffy feels vaccination is the next best move. “What producers can do on their end is get two rounds of modified-live (vaccines) in their calves prior to shipping. It helps out considerably,”

Dr. Duffy feels kill vaccines on origin do not offer much help, but using modified-live vaccines prior to weaning or shipping is a strong method for preventing shipping fever.

For supportive care: it is recommended that you provide your calves with 1 gallon of warm water and electrolytes per 100 lbs. of body weight. This is in order to help stimulate appetite as well as correct dehydration a calf usually suffers if it has been sick for more than 24 hours.

Vitamin B and Probiotics can also be used to help stimulate the appetite, support digestion, and the immune system.

Sick calves should be given excellent quality hay and grain. Grass and/or rye are also good feedstuffs as sick calves will often eat these when they will not eat anything else.

Make sure the calf is warm, dry, and protected from the elements. When the weather is nice or not severe, calves often benefit from sunlight and being outside as opposed to being in a barn with poor ventilation.


Caroline Fox is a freelance writer with over thirty-five years experience perfecting a large variety of homesteading skills including raising much of her family's meat, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. Her beef cattle of choice were Dexters. Her milkers were Dexter, Jersey, and goats. She has over twenty-five years of experience in the Health Industry as a Master Herbalist in both private practice and retail. She and her husband currently reside in Northern California.


1. Vets Corner: Treating calf pneumonia - Animalhealth, calf, pneumonia, Tommy Heffernan - 23.12.2016

2. Treat Calf Pneumonia Early: - 4/2/2009 - Heather Smith Thomas.

3. Ways to prevent shipping fever- Mayzie Purviance for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 July 2018

4. Recognition and Treatment of Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex, May 01, 2009 -

400-008 - John F. Currin and W. Dee Whittier, Extension Specialists and Professors, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University.

5. Bovine respiratory disease - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia -

6. Perspectives on transportation issues: The importance of having physically fit cattle and pigs -T. Grandin, Department of Animal Sciences Colorado State University

Fort Collins CO 80523-1171

7. Preventing Shipping Fever Pneumonia in Calves - Jeff Caswell, Aug. 2006,


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page