The first few hours of a calf’s life are crucial.
Making sure the cow dries the calf off, the calf gets enough colostrum and the calf stands are a few necessities.
There are many difficulties that can occur in those first vital hours of life, scours is one of them.
Reported in the 2007-2008 study by the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), 14 percent of losses in calves less than three weeks old were because of digestive problems.
Bacteria, viruses or parasites can be the cause for a newborn to get scours.
The primary reason calves get sick is dehydration, John Middleton, a University of Missouri professor of food-animal medicine, has said. With an inflammation of the gut, they lose fluids and electrolytes.
“Once they start to get a liquid stool, we need to keep up with hydration and electrolytes. That prevents them from getting severely ill,” Middleton explained. “The most severely ill ones need to be taken to a veterinary clinic and treated with IV fluids, while calves that are standing and can still suckle can be treated with oral fluids and electrolytes.”
In the cold winter months – it is more likely when it is wet for a calf to suffer from cold stress and the microorganisms to thrive.
A good preventative measure is to watch the cows close – especially during cold, wet periods.
Moving the cow, or cow-calf pair, to a dry area, even the barn would assist in keeping the calf dry and warm during those vital hours.
Most of the pathogens that cause scours are transmitted through fecal-oral contact. Middleton says that breaking that fecal-oral cycle is important to prevent scours, and environmental hygiene is a big part of that.
“Remove the calf from the contaminated environment as soon as possible after birth,” Middleton said. “What we’d like to do is have them calve and moved out to clean pasture.”
Moving feed sites around rather than feeding in the same place can help decrease fecal-oral contact by reducing environmental contamination with potential diarrhea pathogens, Middleton says. He also suggests producers unroll large round hay bales to increase the feeding area.
Like in humans, there are many causes of an upset stomach, it is important that producers have a good relationship with their veterinarian to get the best treatment for that animal and create management plans to prevent future scours.
For the calf who has already shown signs of scours early treatment is key.
It’s also important for the producer to remember that scours can cause severe dehydration and they need to supplement plenty of water with an electrolyte booster.
“Really, what we’re doing is treating the calf’s symptoms, much like if we were to get food poisoning,” Middleton has said. “We’d hydrate ourselves with an electrolyte solution, but there’s usually no specific treatment for the diarrhea that might be associated with food poisoning. It is much the same case when a calf gets the scours. We’re trying to keep it hydrated so its body can deal with the invading organism and clear it on its own.”
So in these winter months the best prevention is to be aware of the herd – aware of the calves coming and where and when they are dropping.



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