Avoiding calf scours

By Country News

Calves are the future of your herd, therefore keeping them in good health is vitally important.

Calf scours is most common in beef calves during the first six weeks of life.

It’s difficult to control the disease once calves start to scour and become sick. Therefore, it’s important to manage calving herds to avoid outbreaks.

Scours is caused by an interaction between the environment, the health of the calf and the presence of disease-causing agents (pathogens), which include bacteria, viruses and protozoa.

These pathogens are shed in low, but increased numbers, in the manure of cows around calving, and in much greater numbers in the manure of scouring calves and unaffected calves up to six months old.

During a scours outbreak, a rapid build-up of pathogens can occur in the environment.

While the pathogens’ actions vary, their effects are consistent — a loss of fluid and electrolytes associated with diarrhoea leading to dehydration, weakness and, in some cases, the death of the calf.

To reduce the risk of calf scours in your herd you should minimise contact between young calves and potential sources of infection by avoiding wet, muddy areas or areas with manure build-up, maximise colostrum intake by avoiding calving difficulty and poor early bonding, and any calf that hasn’t suckled within six hours of birth should be supplemented with colostrum.

Farmers should also avoid stress, poor nutrition and crowding, and avoid the introduction of new calf scour pathogens into the herd by not replacing dead calves with bobby calves from another property.

—Dr Jeff Cave

district veterinary officer

Agriculture Victoria