What every farmer should know about calf scours.

Publicatiedatum: 11-11-2016

Every farmer involved in breeding calves comes across the issue of calves suffering from diarrhea. It doesn’t make you very happy and sometimes you are reluctant to go and work in the stables. Lethargic and inactive calves with a scorched fur and a lot of extra work. Research has shown that the economic damage of calf diarrhea is considerable. The damage of e.g. Salmonellose at a dairy farm  can contribute up to150 euros per dairycow.
It is important to recognize the very first symptoms of scours and to act immediately. How can you determine the different types of calf scours and how do you treat them properly ?

Although the causes of calf scours can be very different, the body reacts in the same way most of the time. If there is something in the digestive tract that doesn’t belong there, the body will try to flush it out of the system. This can be something like the wrong kind of bacteria, viruses, parasites or badly digested feed.
This flushing might be a good thing, but at the same time it puts the calf at risk. In addition, for flushing (diarrhea) the body uses its own available body fluids. Along with fluid loss it depletes the body also of important minerals needed for good health.
The disturbance of the digestion may have infectious or non-infectious causes.  In the case of non-infectious  scours the cause may not be in germs but probably is bad nutrition. Think of the wrong concentration, insufficient stirring or incorrect preparation temperatures. To cure a scouring calf as quickly as possible, these issues should be addressed immediately. Still, one should be very cautious. Non-contagious diarrhea may lead to contagious diarrhea.
Infectious  diarrhea is caused by germs. We distinguish three different groups with each a different approach:

  • Viruses (Rota,Corona,BVD)
  • Bacteria(Salmonella, E-Colli)
  • Protozoans (Crypto, Coccidiosis)

The sooner you determine the cause of the scours and initiate a treatment program, the more quickly the calf will recover.  Any delay in treating a sick calf that requires care could potentially cause problems for the calf’s longterm health, and may even put the calf at risk of death.  Because there are several pathogens, a quick scan may be helpful to determine the infection. Only when you determine successfully, you will be able to find the right treatment.

Click on the link below to find a schedule with the most frequent causes of calf scours, the symptoms and adequate treatment.


Prevent or cure ?
Prevention is better than cure, also in the case of calf scours. The basis for prevention is in hygiene around the calving.  Some causes of scours are infectious.  Properly cleaning and sanitizing equipment used for care and feeding can prevent spreading of infectious bacteria, viruses, and parasites to other animals. Some calves are already infected before they drink their first colostrum. Feeding colostrum is another vital moment in the first few hours of any calf. Use proper sanity rules :

  •  Within the first two hours after birth feed 3 litres of high quality colostrum
  •  Within 6 to 12 hours after birth : again 3 litres of colostrum
  •  When the calf cannot or won’t drink sufficiently, tube feeding can be of help. Take good care of hygiene            (Be aware : only use the tube for the first feed after birth. When the calf is older the milk may badly digest because of tripe bacteria.
  •  Dilute colostrum in calf nutrition may be useful for calves older than 24 hours for defence in the bowel system.
  •  Keep the calf in a separated disinfected area with its own water bucket. Use a regular walking track, from the youngest till the oldest calf. The sick calf will be taken care of last of all. Properly cleaning and sanitizing equipment used for care and feeding can prevent spreading of infectious bacteria, viruses, and parasites to other animals.
  •  Properly sanitize all the equipment. Any tools or equipment that comes in contact with a sick calf needs scrubbing with a strong detergent and warm (> 65 C) water is sufficient for most cleaning purposes.

Dehydration is a serious consequence of scours, and the most common cause of scours related deaths.  A calf may need fluids up to 30 percent of the body weight (usually 10 %).
That is why electrolytes mix can sometimes saves a calf’s life.
Make sure that calves suffering from scours are kept warm. Use a blanker, some straw or a lamp.
Sometimes it is wise not to feed milk to give the bowels some rest (skip max. 2 feeding rounds). Instead of milk , feed electrolyte mix. Then slowly start feeding milk again, preferably in small portions. Always consult your advisor.
Calves suffering from scours can be given milk products to support the bowel function.
Also the use of acidified milk has a favourable effect on the condition of the intestines . One example is Maxilac Optimal.
Inform your vet and your feed advisor about the calf scours.

So : prevention is better than cure. Still you cannot always prevent calf scours. Proper treatment of a sick calf is important.
If you understand the importance of the measurements, you are more likely to take the necessary and proper steps to get your calf up and running in no time. Do not hesitate to contact us, if you need more information.


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