Scours prevention: biosecurity, colostrum and vaccines

Cattle producers today are able to keep scours at bay most years, thanks to proper management strategies, the use of scours vaccinations and strict biosecurity measures.

As calving season progresses, the number of scours cases is likely to increase as the number of calves increases.

When scours occurs, the veterinarian will likely try and pinpoint the causative organism.

In turn, hopefully, that will make it possible to initiate changes to slow its spread and prevent scours in the following year.

Management changes that can help reduce the incidence of scours include using areas clean of manure that have had no recent cattle.

Cow-calf pairs should have at least 2,000 sq. feet per pair and, ideally, every 50 to 60 pairs should be segregated so any outbreak can be contained within that group.

Producers and others who tend to the animals or visit birthing areas must take care not to spread it from pen to pen on equipment tires, boots, treatment equipment or — the most frequent culprit — clothes, hands and coveralls.

It is important to wash coveralls frequently and use boot dips and hand-washing facilities, especially around the calving barns.

Producers should use obstetrical gloves and washable calving suits when assisting with calf deliveries. The calving jack, breech and other equipment should be washed before they are put away.

The maternity area and holding pens are also potential sources of infection, so they must be thoroughly cleaned before the calving season begins. Use lots of clean straw bedding in these areas and change it frequently.

A good principle is to treat, feed or bed down any sick calves last in your rounds, but isolate them with their mothers as soon as possible. It is best to use different coveralls to work with sick calves.

The scours organisms can be transmitted through manure, but can also contaminate the calf’s hair and the area around the calf.

That area is a good place to keep a boot dip. Use virkon disinfectant and replenish it whenever there is too much soiling. The goal is to create the mindset of reducing the organism’s spread as much as possible to prevent new cases.

Biosecurity measures should be in place at the start of calving because preventing the first case is key. In well-managed herds, calves that did not get adequate colostrum, which makes them more susceptible to disease, often start the vicious cycle.

Be diligent and ensure each calf receives adequate colostrum. If in doubt, give a colostrum substitute.

Always have two esophageal feeders — one labelled to use only on newborn calves and the other to use on sick or scouring calves. However, having two feeders is not a substitute for using a disinfectant to clean the feeders and tube between treatments.

Antibiotics are used for scours treatment, even though most causes of scours are viral or protozoal. The antibiotics are to prevent secondary bacterial infections. When choosing vaccines, use the principle of vaccinating the cow for whatever you are trying prevent the calf from catching in its first few weeks of life.

Scours vaccination is imperative in my mind, especially in large herds where contamination builds up over the calving season.

There are some scours diagnosed as clostridial in nature and one scours vaccine contains some clostridial protection (clostridium perfringens Type C) but many herds make sure the clostridial (blackleg shots) are up to date on their cows as well.

One of the most important things is to get a proper diagnosis, based on a post-mortem, clinical diagnosis from an experienced veterinarian or one based on other tests such as a fecal analysis.

There is one good on-site test for rotavirus, corona virus, E. coli and cryptosporidiosis, available from Biovet.

Coccidiosis can be diagnosed from a fecal flotation as well or cryptosporidiosis from an acid-fast stain. If a specific diagnosis is made, it increases the odds of prevention in the future.

The principles of fluid hydration isolation and disinfection are the same for most normal causes of scours.

The specific treatments with medication may be considerably different, however.

Once a specific diagnosis is made, treatment recommendations and prevention can be instituted. This may involve thorough disinfection, cleaning and moving the calving area. It may seem like a lot of work but anything that breaks the transmission cycle of scours is worth it.

Always use electrolytes as part of the treatment regime and good quality electrolytes will help save more calves.

A veterinarian may do a culture and sensitivity test to see which antibiotic works best for scours.

There are many scours vaccines that can be given at birth to the calf or as an intranasal vaccine if more protection is needed.

Good luck and here’s hoping 2017 is a banner calving season.

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