HOUSING conditions are a major factor in controlling respiratory diseases in livestock.

Jamie Robertson, livestock health specialist and honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, has urged producers to make ventilation, drafts, air quality and humidity management key aspects in their disease prevention programme.

While preventative practices for respiratory diseases like pneumonia are essential for herd animal welfare, they also carry a significant financial safeguard.

According to research from Midlands-based Scarsdale Vets Farm, the average dairy calf with pneumonia costs £43.26 and the average beef calf costs £82.10 – with significant lower growth rates and increased medicine use contributing the greatest costs.

To keep adequate airflow in housed buildings, Mr Robertson recommends farm buildings have a roof pitch of 15 to 22 degrees, with steeper angles working to create a chimney effect to draw out excess heat, moisture and stale air from buildings.

He said: “Buildings for animals need a hole in the roof to let the hot air, stale air, moisture, bugs and all the other excesses out. If you don’t have a big enough hole in the roof, then you accumulate heat and moisture inside the building.”

He also said building materials are an essential factor to shed environment and recommended livestock producers use fibre cement profiled sheeting, which can absorb up to 25 per cent of its dry weight in moisture, when choosing roofing materials.

Sarah Heptinstall, area sales manager for Marley Eternit Profiled Sheeting, said the moisture absorption ability of fibre cement can make the difference between a low humidity and high humidity environment.

She said: “Fibre cement absorbs excess moisture, soaking in any condensation into its surface to be dissipated once conditions are right.

“When this is combined with proper building design for the right roof slope and ridge construction for air flow, fibre cement profiled sheeting can contribute to decreasing the potential for costly and long-term health-related issues such as pneumonia.”

Mr Robertson said fibre cement roofing also helps maintain a more stable shed temperature due to its insulation – metal roofing’s lack of insulation can lead to severe temperature fluctuations. This is especially important to youngstock producers.

“Until two to three months of age, young cattle are not very good at regulating their body temperature and are very sensitive to varying temperatures within a short period, he said. “So mineral fibre is better than tin in those situations because it doesn’t exaggerate solar gain.”

He stressed the importance of not only taking shed environment into consideration, but also the long-lasting benefits of using quality building materials.

“Cost is the wrong thing to measure anything by,” he said. “It’s the value that matters. The main point of a roof is to provide shelter and if it is failing to improve the indoor environment to outdoors, then it isn’t doing its job.”