Scours in Calves Can Be Very Costly for Cattle Producers

— Written By and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

calf scoursCalf scours, or diarrhea, is a very costly problem for many producers.  Calves suffering from scours can become critically ill in a short time. Dehydration, elec­trolyte depletion and acid-base imbalances are the underlying causes of the animal’s demise.  Calf scours is a complex disease; that is, it is caused by a variety of infectious agents and conditions, not just one single agent. In fact, almost any disease agent which attacks a calf during the first three weeks of life will result in some level of scours (diarrhea). The reason is because the gut is still so immature during that period and is the weakest point of the calf’s system. That is a significant point to remember as you consider prevention, treatment or diagnosis. It may be important to pursue a diagnosis through laboratory work of culture, etc.; the cause could be a single agent, such as salmonella. But if a variety of agents are present, the diagnosis is not very significant and you had better concentrate on control and prevention rather than a specific diagnosis. In this latter type of outbreak, the lab can eventually identify almost all of the common causes of scours as being present in the herd.

The immediate and most important treatment for all scouring newborn calves is the same,regardless of cause. They must receive fluids, electrolytes and energy. The fluid is essential in order to allow the body organs such as the kidneys, liver, etc. to continue to function. However, the fluid cannot be absorbed from the gut unless it contains electrolytes (salts) in the proper proportions. And, that absorption process also requires lots of energy. If you can keep the calf hydrated, its own body defenses will usually be able to control the infectious agents involved. The exception to this occurs when there is an immune deficiency (lack of absorption of antibodies from colostrum).  There are a variety of fluid and electrolyte formulas available and most will work to some extent. Consult with your veterinarian about his choice and why. If the products are not working, re-evaluate with them again.

The major problem encountered in treatment with fluids and electrolytes is that producers give too little, too late. Plan to give 2 qts., 2–4 times per day. Determine the frequency of treatment needed by the amount of dehydration present; this is evidenced by sinking of the eyes and elasticity of skin on the neck and withers. Don’t mix the fluid and electrolytes with milk; that prevents curd formation and the milk is then of no benefit. If you are feeding milk, wait for 15–20 minutes before giving the fluid and electrolytes.

Utah State Cooperative Extension

Wilkes Livestock Improvement Meeting

Anyone that is interested in learning more about the Wilkes County Livestock Improvement Grant is encouraged to attend a meeting on Tuesday, October 21, 2014.  The meeting will begin at 6:30 at the Brushy Mountain Smokehouse in North Wilkesboro.  Dinner will be on your own and the informational meeting will start at 7 p.m.  If you have questions please call 336-651-7348.

Cattlemen’s Association Meeting

The Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association will hold their next meeting on Thursday, October 30, 2014. The meeting will begin at 6:30 pm and will be at the Farm Bureau Building in North Wilkesboro. Please call 336-651-7331 by October 28 if you plan on attending. Cattlemen’s Association meetings are a great resource for livestock producers here in Wilkes County. Not only will you learn from the monthly educational programs, but the meetings also provide a place to network and learn from fellow producers. If you’ve never been to a meeting I encourage you to attend!

Written By

Photo of John CothrenJohn CothrenCounty Extension Director and Ext Agent, Agriculture - Livestock and Field Crops (336) 651-7348 john_cothren@ncsu.eduWilkes County, North Carolina
Updated on Dec 22, 2015
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