Prevention best option to limit ‘scours’

This article stresses the importance of using electrolytes in treating calves with scours so we thought it was important to share.  AFP’s Source E is an extremely aggressive electrolyte supplement for the rehydration of calves who are scouring.  


By Dr. Kevin Cox, DVM, TFC Staff Veterinarian

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As many farmers are in the midst of winter calving season, neonatal diarrhea — or “scours” — will soon become a concern. This condition has a myriad of different causes that can range from very mild diarrhea to severe, possibly fatal episodes.  Management and care of the brood cow is as important — if not more — than that of the newborn calf when neonatal diarrhea is concerned. Certainly proper nutrition status of the cow is critical because a well-fed cow always has a better opportunity to produce milk well than a poorly fed one. Cows that milk well and provide offspring with strong colostrum have calves with stronger immune systems and are much less likely to be attacked by one of these diarrhea diseases.

Cleanliness and hygiene are also very important in helping control calf diarrhea.  Keeping feeding areas as free of manure and excessive mud as possible will help control contamination of the cow’s udder with dirt and manure that can easily transmit the common pathogens of diarrhea to the calf.

Common causes of neonatal diarrhea include E. coli, rotavirus, corona virus, and C. perfringens type C.  All of these can cause diarrhea in the first days of life up to about 1-2 months of age. The two viral diseases (rota and corona viruses) are less often fatal and are somewhat self-limiting. The other two are bacterial and are much more severe, often ending in death of the calf.

The main problem is dehydration. Calves lose fluid in the diarrhea and often don’t feel well enough to nurse or drink, so they become dehydrated.  Electrolyte supplementation is critical since many important electrolytes are lost in the diarrhea. Antibiotics are almost always recommended since it is difficult to distinguish the cause. Even if the diarrhea is caused by a virus, antibiotics can be effective against secondary bacterial invaders.

Since treatment can be frustrating and sometimes unsuccessful, prevention may be the best answer.  The cow, again, is the target here.  There are many commercially available vaccines that can be given to the cow before she calves to enable her to make strong colostrum against these diseases, helping the calf protect himself from the diarrhea diseases.  These vaccines come in a variety of combinations covering one or more of the earlier-mentioned diseases.  It is important to note that these vaccines are labeled to be given to cows that are pregnant shortly before they calve.  Depending on the vaccine, they may have to be given more than once during that interval.  While that may seem inconvenient, the vaccines are quite effective and can help prevent the loss of baby calves.

If calf diarrhea is a serious problem in your herd, contact your local Co-op to get help with a vaccine protocol that could limit — and hopefully eliminate — neonatal diarrhea problems in your calves.