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4 Things To Keep In Mind About Calf Scours

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Here are four considerations for preventing, managing and treating calf scours in spring-born calves.

After weeks of extremely cold temperatures, it finally feels like spring around here. With a high yesterday of 63°F., I spent the day outside looking over calves and enjoying the sunshine while it lasts. However, with warm spring temperatures comes a big concern for cattlemen, and that’s calf scours. Here are four things to keep in mind when dealing with scours on your operation, thanks to Don Hansen, Oregon State University Extension veterinarian.

1. No ranch is immune to scours.

“Almost no herd goes through a calving season without some scours. In severe outbreaks, the effects of scours in an individual herd can be overwhelming. Illness may occur in 70% of calves born and death may occur in 50%,” writes Hansen.

 

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2. Scours can be caused by many factors.

“Many factors influence the occurrence of diarrheal disease. Factors that predispose calves to scours include: dystocia, exposure, poor nutrition of dam, poor health of dam, poor mothering ability of dam, etc. Rotavirus and coronavirus are the most common viruses associated with calf scours. Both viruses infect the lining cells of the intestinal tract and destroy the cells that digest and absorb milk,” he explains.

Additionally, E. coli (Escherichia coli), Salmonella and Cryptosporidia can also invade the gut cells and cause scours. One consideration is a pre-calving vaccination to prevent scours, as well. 

3. Early treatment of scours is key.

When a calf gets scours, they often become weaker and are less apt to take in enough milk to stay hydrated. Waiting too long to get fluids in a calf is one of the biggest mistakes a rancher can make in the treatment of scours.

“By far, the most important treatment measure is replenishment of vital fluids and electrolytes. Numerous formulas are now available commercially that are designed for rehydration, correction of pH imbalance, and replacement of lost electrolytes (K, Na, Cl, and bicarbonate). You should have a supply on hand to meet a scours problem before it occurs. Consult with your veterinarian for selection of product and volume of mixture to be given to treat sick calves,” Hansen recommends.

4. Move cow-calf pairs to a different location than your calving pen.

To prevent scours or limit the spread of scours, it is recommended that ranchers have an open lot or pasture to put cows in once they have calved. This helps slow the spread of viruses and bacteria. Even though snow and mud are issues during late winter and early spring calving, try to keep the calving area as clean and dry as possible, as well, so the calves are able to suck on clean udders.

Read more tips for Hansen here. 

What have been your tried-and-true methods for managing and preventing scours? Share your tips in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 5

W.E. (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

We calve later. Spring equinox, March 21, plus sixty days in the Upper South is a very good time to calve, and scours are much less problematic when the days are longer than the nights. The trick is getting the cows bred for a short sixty-day window, which requires planning ahead from the ground up with the right forages available nine months ahead of calving time. Usually the summer breeding season here is very hot and humid. To get cows bred back between June 10 and August 10, toxic tall fescue should be avoided if at all possible. We stockpile the fescue for use during the cool season and plan to have a summer reserve. Forages available to breed for healthy equinox calves should include warm season grasses and legumes. Perennials like eastern gamagrass are great, if you have them. Annuals like crabgrass and lespedeza are also great in most years (2012 excepted; they didn't germinate). We like to have some alfalfa/red clover/grass mix pasture to hay once in spring and then graze using management-intensive grazing two or three times in the summer. Rested for sixty-five days, that hayfield was completely dried up and brown in 2012, but it still made a great breeding pasture even in exceptional drought. We back-fenced to keep the cows from grubbing it. The alfalfa, three branch-rooted varieties, came back pretty healthy and strong in 2013, even though our drought had lasted until January. Our first two calves were just born, a little earlier than planned, in this mild sixty-degree weather. Winter was here in full force just last week, with six inches of sleet on the ground and a nighttime low temperature near zero.

Tim Hervey (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

In addition to boluses and oral hydration we use Spec-Gard which is a pig scours medicine sold by Valley Vet. We fill one nipple with Spec- Gard per 1/2 gallon of hydration fluid. It works good.

Shelley Smith (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

Thank you for an excellent article.

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

Prevention is the best treatment, what has worked for me is to calve on clean ground away from buildings and lots when the weather is no longer an issue. For me that is late April and May. I think I have treated three cases of scours in 15 years.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

We calve starting the first of March. We use furmos now but have also used bio mos. We hardly treat a calf for scours out of 130 spring calvers. We also vaccinate with antitoxin at birth for clostridium.

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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