Calf scours – diarrhea occurring in the first 30 days of a calf’s life – is caused by viruses, parasites, bacteria, or any combination of those. The exact cause is less important than prompt treatment, says John Middleton, University of Missouri professor of food-animal medicine.
The primary harm that scours causes to calves are dehydration, loss of electrolytes (body salts), and inflammation of intestinal lining which impairs the ability to digest nutrients. These things combined cause weight loss and low blood sugar, leading to death if not treated as soon as possible. Some calves last 1-2 days after symptoms show, others can last two weeks.
Calf scours are transmitted most through fecal-oral contact. Keeping the cattle pens and calving environment clean is vital to break the fecal-oral contact cycle and, in turn, prevent scours. An ideal situation is to move cows and newborn calves to a clean pasture area.
Keep in mind that overcrowded pens increase chances of scours in calves, as does penning newborn calves with older ones. Colorado State University recommends segregating calves by age to prevent transmitting those infectious agents from “apparently healthy” older calves to the newborns.
As the calf is building an immune system, receiving colostrum from the cow in the first day of the calf’s life is extremely important.
Symptoms & Treatment
This dehydration and loss of body salts yields symptoms including sunken eyes, watery stool that could be brown, green, grey or yellow, weak or depressed disposition, swaying while walking, and/or too weak to stand.
“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 says. “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.”
Contributed by Jordan Anderson
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