Scours is the leading killer of calves younger than two months.
It can be caused by many factors, and many different management strategies are necessary to prevent it.
These points will help prevent the buildup of infectious organisms and increase resistance in your calves. By increasing resistance and decreasing exposure to scours-causing organisms, the chances of contracting scours is lessened.
Organisms come from dirt, manure and each other so we need to keep this in mind.
- Prepare for calving season by cleaning calving area, barns and calving chute, pressure wash equipment and allow outside areas to desiccate in the sun. Calving areas ideally should be accessed by cows just before the calving begins.
Spray equipment and cement floor surfaces with Virkon disinfectant to remove infectious organisms.
- Have cows in good body condition score at calving (2.4 to 3.5) and on proper mineral supplementation. Get feed tested. It doesn’t hurt to check cows’ colostrum quality once in a while as well.
- If calving in winter, try and mother up cow and calf for 24 hours in a separate pen and ensure suckling happens as early as possible after birth. If in doubt, drench with mother’s colostrum or a good quality colostrum substitute, such as HeadStart. You need at least 100 grams of immunoglobulins so read the package insert and ensure this happens before four hours of life but preferably in the first two hours of life.
- Slower calves may need another bit of time (outside shed) before they are vigorous. This may mean you need enough pen capacity for the number of calves born on your biggest day. Very cold weather (lows of -15 C or colder) many days in a row is where you need creep areas for the calves as soon as out of the barn.
- Administer colostrum immediately to twins, hard pulls, calves slow to rise, calves on cows in poor condition and those with a poor suckle reflex after 20 minutes or on cows with poor udders or poor teat conformation.
These pairs should perhaps stay in an extra day to make sure both dam and calf are doing well.
- Vaccinate cows and heifers for scours and follow the time of administration closely. It takes colostrum up of five weeks to form. Ensure heifers and any new additions in the last year are vaccinated and given the booster vaccine. This is a must in any larger herd (of more than 100 cows) in my opinion.
- It is not recommended to purchase bred cows just before the calving season and if you do, isolate newcomers and calve in a separate area for the first year if possible.
Cross exposure of organisms from two herds can be the biggest risk to starting a scours outbreak. If you do purchase bred cows or heifers, get the health history and for sure the scours and reproductive diseases (IBR and BVD) vaccination status.
- Never bring in a calf from another herd, especially a Holstein, to adopt onto a cow. That could bring scours into your herd. As well, you never know if an adopted calf got the right amount of colostrum at the proper time and this could be your first case in a scours outbreak.
- Don’t allow visitors for a tour at calving season unless you supply boots and coveralls. Biosecurity must be paramount at calving season.
- Ideally calve heifers ahead of cows and in a separate area so heifers can be watched better if they need assistance and mothering up.
- Is there a coccidiosis prevention program as far as Rumensin in the feed for the cows and Rumensin or Deccox in the calves’ creep area when they get older?
- Use a separate esophageal feeder for newborns, scours or sick calves with other conditions. Keep it labelled and disinfect the feeders between uses.
- For barn cleaning, use a good base and clean out manure, wet bedding and placenta daily. Whether stalls are cleaned totally or new bedding is added should be determined based on what has worked well in the past. The more manure and wet conditions, the more the potential for scours organisms to build and the higher predisposition to navel infection.
- Good rule of thumb is that covered sheds need 100 sq. feet per cow-calf pair. Eliminate standing water and try and avoid dirty, muddy or manure-contaminated udders at calving.
- If scours is detected, have your veterinarian check for cryptosporidiosis to rule it out. The best, first treatment should be electrolytes delivered orally, potentially with activated charcoal or Kaopectate if necessary, and antibiotics only if necessary (in very young calves younger than four days) unless a it is a concurrent problem. Your veterinarian will advise on treatment schedules and whether there is a need for oral or intravenous fluids and the amount.
- If the scouring calf and mother don’t respond after one treatment, isolate them from the herd. Have isolation areas, cages or hot boxes for the calves needing an intravenous. We must replenish fluids and keep them warm.
- Put in a boot dip and use separate coveralls for treating calves versus working with newborns. Use a calving suit for calving that can be washed, and wash the chains and calf puller before putting them away.
- Minimize people or animal movement between sick calves and the rest of the herd. After treating calves, make sure to clean up and clean coveralls and disinfected boots for the healthy calves.
- If weather is good, minimize movement through the barn and isolate more fractious cows with their calves in a quiet area.
Here’s to a scours-free calving season.
We need to prevent that first case.