Prevention, Treatment, and Control of Calf Scours
Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
Another severe winter has led to instances of calf scours. Calf scours, or diarrhea, is typically associated with inflammation of the intestinal tract. Scours main occurs during the first few days and up to one month after birth. Young calves are most susceptible due to their naïve immune system.
Scours can be caused in a variety of ways. Rotavirus, coronavirus, BVD, coccidia or other parasites, E. coli, Salmonella, or Clostridium perfringens. Most cases of scores likely involve more than one cause. Overcrowding of pens is a main cause for calf scours, as it increases the number of infectious agents to increase dramatically. Other factors, such as consuming too much milk, which cannot be digested by the calf, can also cause calf diarrhea.
The diarrhea is only one part of the issue, another major factor is severe dehydration by the impacted calves. The intestinal inflammation reduces the calf’s ability to properly digest nutrients. If bacteria (Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens) are to blame for the scours, they will release toxins which can harm the vital organs.
Baby calves can become infected when exposed to large colonies of the bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Shedding of the infectious agents is common by adult, pregnant cattle. Research has shown that as cows get closer to calving, shedding of the rotavirus and coronavirus increases. This increase in shedding was heaviest in heifers and may also increase after cold weather. Older calves that are exposed to the viruses may not develop scours, but also may shed these viruses. Therefore, moving cow-calf pairs soon after calving can help reduce in the incidence of scours.
One of the best ways to reduce the potential of scours is to maintain a healthy herd throughout the year. Maintaining a health herd through proper immunization, but also through nutritional means can help reduce the possibility of scours. If calving indoors, moving calves outside can also reduce the potential for calves to contract scours. Calving barns should be thoroughly cleaned after each calving season, which includes removal of all fecal material and putting lime on all surfaces that were potentially exposed to scours.
Immediately upon observing scours symptoms, infected calves and their dams should be removed from the healthy herd. The main treatment for calf scours is providing water and electrolytes to the infected calves, this helps reduce dehydration and improves acid-base balance. There are two ways of administering the needed fluids, oral or intravenous administration. Your veterinarian can help determine the amount and how often calves should be treated. Make sure you are using proper biosafety protocols when dealing with scours, change boots when entering a clean area, wash your hands, and change clothes if needed.
Prevention of scours is difficult due to the number of agents that can cause the diarrhea. Therefore, the main way to prevent scours is to maintain clean calving facilities and to move cow-calf pairs to a fresh, clean area after calving. Ensuring all calves receive adequate quality and quantity of colostrum can also aid in preventing scours.