Calf scours is most common in beef calves during the first six weeks of life.
It’s difficult to control once calves start to scour and become sick. Therefore, it’s important to manage calving herds to avoid outbreaks.
Scours is caused by an interaction between the environment, the health of the calf and the presence of disease-causing agents (pathogens), which include bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
These pathogens are shed in low, but increased numbers in the manure of cows around the time of calving, and in much greater numbers in the manure of scouring calves and unaffected calves up to six months of age.
During a scours outbreak, a rapid build-up of pathogens can occur in the environment.
While the pathogen’s actions vary, their effects are consistent – a loss of fluid and electrolytes associated with diarrhoea leading to dehydration, weakness, and in some cases the death of the calf.
To reduce the risk of calf scours in your herd you should:
- Minimise contact between young calves and potential sources of infection by avoiding wet, muddy areas or areas with manure build-up
- Maximise colostrum intake by avoiding calving difficulty (dystocia) and poor early bonding. Calves from heifers are most at risk. Any calf that hasn’t suckled within six hours of birth should be supplemented with colostrum
- Avoid stress, poor nutrition and crowding
- Avoid the introduction of new calf scour pathogens into the herd by not replacing dead calves with bobby calves from another property and not introducing recently-purchased animals into the calving herd.
- Control measures should be applied quickly when scouring calves require treatment as the disease can spread rapidly if pathogen build-up is not addressed.
- Move all pregnant cows to a new calving paddock and don’t put any new calves with affected cows and calves.
To successfully treat a scouring calf, supportive therapy is needed to counteract the effects of diarrhoea.
The most important aspect of supportive therapy is to give an adequate quantity of fluids and electrolytes to replace what is lost in the diarrhoea.
The use of antibiotics may be appropriate but only under veterinary advice.
A key to the success of treatment is to commence it promptly at the first indication of adverse clinical signs.
If these steps were followed I would hope that you would enjoy a trouble-free calving season.
For further advice please contact your local veterinarian or Agriculture Victoria Veterinary or Animal Health Officer, or in NSW your Local Land Services.