Pink eye or infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis to give it its proper title can be quite common in calves, especially dairy-beef calves, in their first season at grass. On the Thrive demo farm this year, two batches of calves have had animals display symptoms of the issue, although it has never been a problem before on the farm.

What does it look like?

Calves' eyes, typically only one eye, will appear red and the eyelid becomes swollen. The eye waters excessively and you will notice a wet line underneath the eye. The calf will be blinking excessively and as the condition progresses the eye will become cloudy and eventually a white spot or ulceration will be seen on the eyeball itself.


It is a highly contagious bacterial infection and so, where possible, calves should be isolated to avoid it spreading to the rest of the batch. It can be passed from animal to animal where they are offered long stemmy grass which can enter the eye of the grazing animal or it can also be spread by flies.

In the case of the demo farm, neither of these seems likely to be the cause of it spreading to other animals but they were getting meal from an enclosed feeder and were also getting straw from a round feeder which would lead to calves' heads being in close proximity.

The infected calves have now been isolated from the rest of the batch and treated.


In some instances pink eye will clear itself after a few weeks, however calves can be in discomfort over this period and it is better to treat as early as possible. In many cases it will lead to lower growth rates and even weight loss in severe cases. As it is a bacteria, it can be treated with a long acting antibiotic, or repeated administration of a short acting antibiotic.


Prevention can be difficult but calves should be offered short leafy grass. Fly treatment should be considered in the high-risk period of the year and if you see a calf showing signs of the condition, segregate them from the rest of the group immediately and keep a close watch on the other animals over the following days for signs of further infections.