Dealing with Calf Scours

Published on: 14:27PM Feb 18, 2011

As spring calving gets underway it is time for us to prepare for some of the adversity that comes with it.  Calf scours is one of the issues that we begin to deal with as we get deeper into the season.  This can be a frustrating problem for both veterinarians and producers.  Often the best way to correct a calf scours problem is management and not medication.

Some of the main pathogens that cause baby calf scours are E.coli, Rotavirus, Coronavirus, Clostridia, Salmonella and Cryptosporidium.  Sometimes we can differentiate which of these is the possible problem by the age of the calf when clinical signs are exhibited.  For instance we know the E. coli is usually in the first week of life.  This is due to the fact that this particular species of E. coli cannot exist in the intestines of an older calf due to changes that occur in the lining of the intestine as it ages.   

Treatment of scours is often the same independent of the cause.  The most important component of treatment is rehydration and balancing electrolyte imbalances.  In the perfect world those electrolyte abnormalities are measured and the fluids are balanced accordingly.  In the real world I live in we most often use commercial formulations of electrolytes to help balance this out.  Fluids can be administered either orally or intravenously depending on the severity of the illness.  It is sometimes astounding the response one can get from running warm intravenous fluids to a dehydrated calf with a low temperature!  Most often antibiotics of some kind will also be administered.

There are multiple calf scour vaccines available but the gold standard prevention measure is to control the environmental contamination.  The system termed the Sandhills Calving System  provides a means to do this.  A very brief description of this system is to have multiple grass traps to calve in.  As cows have calves the cows that have not had calves are moved to a new paddock.  The animal that contaminates the pasture are the babies so by moving cows to paddocks without babies we eliminate contamination.   As we get deeper into the calving season, with more calves born, the amount of contaminants in the environment goes up. Typically it is preferred to move the calves every 7 days into a fresh paddock.  In real life we are often left trying to balance the perfect world with the world we live in.  In most instances it is not practical to implement this system to its fullest extent Any degree that is implemented is helpful.  It can be prudent to take steps such as unrolling hay in different areas or anything that can be done to keep calves from congregating in the same area. 

Other preventative measures not to be overlooked are the proper management of the cow.  By properly immunizing the cow and then being sure the newborn calf gets adequate colostrum we can help the calf get a healthy start to life.  Proper nutrition also plays a large role in the ability of the cow to produce colostrum and raise a healthy calf.  Scours is definitely a disease where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!