Field disease investigations can help to identify patterns of disease that lead to causal hypotheses and, hopefully, effective disease risk management strategies. The most common way of doing this would be to characterize the outbreak by subject, time, and space. One of the perplexing animal health problems on some beef cattle ranches is the occurrence of pneumonia in calves prior to weaning in conditions of little stress and relative isolation. Field investigation of outbreaks of pneumonia in ranch calves prior to weaning has revealed patterns of sporadic illness in calves less than 30 days of age, and rapidly occurring outbreaks in calves 90–150 days of age. We speculate that the causes of these two patterns may be failure of passive transfer resulting in more sporadic cases in very young calves, or a large proportion of the population losing maternal antibody protection (i.e. losing herd immunity) resulting in rapid and widespread onset of pneumonia in older calves.