Scours in calves - Nicola Neal BVSc

A scour outbreak in your replacement heifers can have a devastating effect, not only on the calves but also the farm team.  As always, prevention is better than cure so here are a few simple ways to decrease the chance of getting scours.

  1. Keep the environment as 'clean as possible'. Do not overcrowd pens, allowing 1.5sqm/calf and no more than 20 calves/pen. Try not to do any more than 2 batches of calves through each pen. Disinfect pens regularly with Virkon and top-up or change bedding if it starts ti get mucky.
  2. Ensure all calves get a minimum of 2 litres of fresh, good quality first-milking colostrum within 12 hours of being born and another 2 litres in the next 12 hours. This may require you to pick up calves more than once daily or tube calves in the paddock in the afternoon.
  3. Ensure good routine in the calf shed, with milk at a similar temperature and consistency at each feed (i.e. not colostrum at one feed, then milk powder at the next), consistent knowledgeable staff and well maintained, hygienic feeding equipment.

If you start to see calves beginning to scour, here are some ideas to maximise recovery and reduce any further sick ones:

  1. Spread calves out as much as possible, either across pens or out into clean paddocks, weather permitting. Ideally paddocks would have some shelter, as turning out calves can be stressful and make a scour problem worse.
  2. Consider getting 10 blood samples taken from 2-8 day old calves to check if they are getting enough colostrum, early enough for it to be absorbed properly.
  3. Increase disinfection of the calf pens, calf trailer and feeding equipment. Do not forget your boots and clothing too!
  4. Get professional advice! There are many effective treatment and management techniques out there, depending on the specific cause of your outbreak.
  5. Ensure all scouring calves are getting adequate fluids each day. This is 6-8 litres of fluid/day, with both good quality electrolytes and milk being fed at different times during the day.
  6. Critically sick calves that can't get up may need IV fluids and or bicarbonate to get them up again. I recently treated a calf which was very close to death with bicarbonate into the vein and had it up and drinking within 3 hours. Do not give up too easily as we can often get these valuable replacements right again!