Scours can be deadly for newborn calves if not treated

Many cattle producers in the Ozarks are reporting an increase in scours in newborn calves this fall, turning some barns into treatment centers for the young victims of the potentially fatal illness.

Scours occur when the intestinal tract of livestock is inflamed, causing diarrhea. Scours usually occur between days 3 and 16 of life in calves but happen at any age. It is important to recognize signs of scours and treat quickly to prolong the life of your herd.

There are several factors that can lead to intestinal infection, including bacteria, parasites, various viral infections, and certain dietary additions that are indigestible by calves. Many times, scours is caused by at least two of these factors working together, which can make treatment complex.

The greatest threat to calves with scours is dehydration. The body requires a certain amount of electrolytes to function and ratios that are even slightly abnormal may lead to life threatening effects.

Sodium is one of the most important electrolytes, when sodium drops into the abnormal range, several neurological functions may or may not occur. The loss of water and salt together, dehydration, has a large impact on the acid-base balance of a calf. When this system is altered, it has a large effect on the digestion of nutrients and may lead to weight loss, low blood sugar levels, or even death. As calves become dehydrated, they may exhibit sunken eyes and the bony structures of their hips, pelvis, and ribs may become more apparent.

Scours may be caused by multiple influences; however, overcrowding is one of the largest causes.

Stocking rate, or the number of cows confined to the same pasture, and the length of time before they’re rotated are the two greatest factors. Stocking rate is especially important with nursing heifers. It’s important to keep in mind that whenever calves lay down, whatever is on the ground will touch their udders and the calf could come in contact with scours agent through nursing. It’s also important to be conscientious of herd health. If cattle are immunocompromised or malnourished, they may not be able to fight scours agents off, ultimately leading to death.

It’s important to catch scours early. It’s important to keep a close eye on the stools of the calves.

Watery stools that vary in color (brown, green, yellow, etc.) or contain mucous or blood are signs of scours. It’s important to pay attention to their behavior and nursing habits. A calf with scours may lose their desire to nurse and may exhibit depressed or weak behavior. Calves may also stagger as they walk or become too weak to stand.

Early detection is crucial. A case of scours in calves could last a few days to a few weeks depending on the severity. There are different ways scours can be treated.

First, as soon as a case of scours is detected, it’s important to isolate the calf and their dam from the rest of a healthy herd. The next thing to do is get fluid in the calf. Rehydration is crucial to save the life of the calf and restore electrolyte balance.

Overall, the best thing to do is to be familiar with your herd and pay attention to their nutrition and their behaviors. It’s important to keep in contact with your veterinarian and have them on standby if you suspect scours or have any additional questions.


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