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If you see any unusual signs of disease, unexpected deaths or abnormal behaviour in livestock, call:
How can I prevent calves developing calf scours?
Colostrum is the ‘first milk’ produced by the cow. It contains immunoglobulins produced by the cow’s immune system and protects the calf against diseases present in the herd. These immunoglobulins are only able to be absorbed by the calf in the first 24 hours of life. Cows in good condition, on a diet meeting their energy needs and in a stress-free environment, will produce a good supply of colostrum. Calves born easily in a dry or sheltered environment will be best able to consume sufficient colostrum to protect them from scours in their first six weeks of life.
Newborn calves are susceptible to infection, particularly if dams have recently been introduced to the herd. Avoid bringing new cattle onto the farm during calving. Introducing poddy calves from another property during calving carries a high risk of introducing calf scours or other infectious diseases.
Establish the cause of the calf scours
It is important to establish the cause of a scours outbreak. Identifying the scour organism allows the veterinarian to determine the most effective treatment (such as whether to use antibiotics and which type) and future prevention strategies.
Common organisms causing ‘calf scours’ include:
- viruses: bovine coronavirus and rotavirus
- bacteria: Escherichia coli and Salmonella
- protozoa: cryptosporidium.
These organisms are usually carried by the cows and shed in stressful environments. Assessing environmental factors such as cow nutrition, calving paddock shelter and cleanliness, ease of calving and calving herd structure also assists in understanding the reason for a calf scours outbreak.
Sometimes even when producers provide excellent management and attention to all of the predisposing factors, calf scours can still occur. Scours can be particularly bad in some years with a number of calves involved, and simply not present the next year while neighbouring farms are experiencing the problem.
How a veterinarian can help
To identify the organism causing the scour, collect a scour sample into a sterile jar. Your veterinarian will submit the sample to a laboratory for testing. Test results will allow your veterinarian to advise on suitable treatments for the calves and to work with you to put appropriate management practices in place to stop the outbreak and reduce the chance of future outbreaks.
A vaccine against a combination of rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli can be given to cows before calving so that immunity is passed to the newborn calf in colostrum.
Calf scours prevention plan
Treatment of calf scours
Severely affected calves need fluid and electrolyte replacement and nursing care to keep them alive.
- reversing dehydration by providing fluids (replacement electrolytes)
- meeting energy requirements (milk feeds or energy supplements)
- providing intestinal protectants such as kaolin
- providing a warm, dry environment for the calf
- treating with antibiotics if warranted by the diagnosis (when bacteria are the cause).
Some calf scour organisms can infect humans
The organisms that cause calf scours can also cause intestinal disease in humans. To avoid getting ill, it is advisable to wear rubber gloves and to wash hands and exposed skin thoroughly after treating scouring calves.