Keep Calves Going Through Scours

Scours are the number one cause of death in preweaned calves. The scours aren’t what kills them, many times dehydration does. Here is how we manage scours in our preweaned calves, and also how we work around having 13-16 pre-weaned calves in one common area, sharing buckets, feeders, water, and resting space.

I have seen many charts on identifying disease based on manure color and consistency. Unfortunately, after extensive diagnostics testing, we have found that many of the samples we took looked very similar, but they all yielded different results. When dealing with scours in multiple animals, it is always best to pull a couple samples and send them in for diagnostics. This can help you select the right drugs, if it is a bacterial scour, or select the proper supportive therapy if is viral or nutritional.

The first and most important thing when dealing with scours is early identification. This includes both identifying the scours and identifying the source.

When a calf is between the age of 0-21 days, you should be checking tails at least once a day for loose or discolored manure. Along with checking tails, you should be identifying the calf with a marking on the calf or calf’s stall to keep track of who has scours. It is also a good idea to record the date the scours started, how severe they are, and any other details you see. This will help you in the future to more accurately treat and predict when scours may occur on your farm.

After you have identified the calves that have scours, and you are either waiting for test results, or deciding which route you want to take, the best thing you can do for them is immediately add diatomaceous earth to each feeding. DE is an “anticaking agent”, that helps bind up and slow down the digestive system, to help stop dehydration and also help the calves work through scours on their own. We typically give 1/4c per feeding for 5 days, or until the scours have stopped. You can also offer it free choice in a bucket or feeder. We have been surprised by how the ones that need it will eat it plain, and the ones that don’t, won’t eat any of it. You have to keep a close eye on calves when offering DE in the milk, as they can get constipated.

The next step is to correct the acid-base balance. When a calf is scouring, the two main things they are loosing are fluids and sodium bicarbonate. Many electrolytes (like Resorb) are for heat stressed animals. While they will rehydrate, it will not correct the acid-base balance that was likely disrupted by the scouring. Offer electrolytes between feedings until the calf is back to normal. There is never a bad time to offer electrolytes, calves can always benefit from a little extra motivation (sugar) to drink water. The only thing I don’t recommend doing is adding it to the milk. This can throw off the osmolality of the milk and cause further issues. There are many electrolytes on the market, chose one that works well for you and your calves.

Lastly, support gut health in two ways. First, we drench the calves with 60cc of a solution made up of 1oz DK-ll to 1 gallon of water to clean everything up. Second, we wait 24 hours and follow up with a high quality probiotic. We use Surveillance by Microbasics. When using a probiotic for a scouring calf, we drench 30cc one time, and repeat as needed. Most times, it only takes one dose! You should do this at the onset of scours to help the gut compete with the pathogens causing the issues.

When dealing with a scouring calf I DO NOT recommend taking milk away at any point during the process. This is the calf’s only source of nutrients. They need this to keep their strength up and to also hydrate. Milk is a great hydrant and recovery tool, why do you think they give it to athletes?! If a calf is refusing to eat, honor that for 1-2 feedings, and then being tube feeding on the 3rd missed feeding. Also, if they won’t drink electrolytes, tube those midway between feedings to help them restore the acid-base balance and to hydrate.

When dealing with scours in group housed animals, I do not see the benefit of separating animals UNLESS you are dealing with a severe case of Cryptosporidium. With this disease, it takes a very small amount to infect a calf, and the sick calf is shedding millions of them into the environment. Unfortunately, calves can also continually reinfect themselves and others. That aside, many times by the time you notice a scouring calf in a group, the others have already been exposed making it too late to separate for much benefit.

What you should do when calves are scouring in a group is spray the pen regularly (at least every other day) with DK-ll to help knock back the bacteria load in the pen. This will give the calves that aren’t scouring a lesser chance of picking something up, and it will also help the sick calves recover more quickly by keeping their area clean and free of other challenges.

Having scouring calves can be extremely stressful, even more so when you can’t find the source. When dealing with scours, you need to slow down the digestive system with DE, rehydrate with a good electrolyte, refill the gut with good bacteria by using a probiotic, keep offering milk, and CLEAN with DK-ll!

If you are struggling with scours, and would like some help, we are here for you and would love to help you get to the bottom of the issue!

Message us today for a FREE sanitation audit and FREE initial farm visit to help you get your calves where you want them to be. We want to take your calves to the next level!

By: Brooke Vanderloop, Calf Manager at AVA Group Inc., Calf Consultant

5 thoughts on “Keep Calves Going Through Scours

  1. Thank you for sharing! There was a recent study in jersey calves that showed calves benefited from a midday feeding of electrolytes for the first 10 days. I have been doing this for a few months and have been pleased with the results. They are already used to the electrolytes before getting sick and their stomach is already being buffered before you know that are off.

  2. Great insights and approach. What do you think of subcutaneous injection of hypertoxic saline for severely dehydrated calves?

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