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March Feed Tip

Mar 03, 2021

Although the weather lately has been far from Spring, Spring calving has begun around the country.  One costly problem that we will address and hopefully help prevent is Calf Scours.  Most producers know exactly what I am referring to when I say calf scours.  The tell-tale signs of lethargy, abdominal distention, bloody diarrhea, and uneasiness (straining or kicking at abdomen) are signs that most cattleman and cattlewomen are familiar with.  So how do calf scours become such a prevalent issue in calves and how can we prevent an outbreak? To answer this question, we must first look at the different pathologies that come into the equation of scours.

Scours come from 3 main sources- Bacterial (E. coli), Viral (Rotavirus and Coronavirus), and Protozoal (Cryptosporidium and Coccidiosis).  Although the origin of the scours can differ, the signs and impact that they can have on your herd are still the same.  Each of these causes of scours can have a costly impact on your operation.  According to the National Youngstock Survey 2018 (MSD Animal Health May 2018) 82% of producers experienced an instance of scours in their herd over a 12-month period, and 48% had a scours case that resulted in the death of the calf.  Aside from death, scours can cause setbacks in ADG, feed conversion, and simply the overall health of the animal which in turn costs you money.

When it comes to preventing a scours outbreak, there are a few things that can be done on farm to mitigate this issue.  One of the easiest places to start is with your vaccination program.  Vaccines to protect against Rotavirus, Coronavirus, and E. coli can be given to your cows during gestation, with the immunity being passed along to their offspring.  The second way to prevent scours in your herd is to ensure that all calves are up and nursing shortly after birth.  Cattle are born naive to most diseases and rely heavily on their mother’s colostrum to gain vital antibodies that will help them to fight off diseases.  It is crucial that calves nurse early and often during the first 24 hours to ensure they have the best chance at building immunity.  Having cattle and calves that are on a good mineral and feed program can help to improve immunity during these trying times.  The last tip for preventing scours is simple- cleanliness.  The best way to prevent scours is to keep their environment as clean as possible.  The fewer pathogens that we introduce to a calf, the smaller the chance that they will become sick. 

Should you experience issues with scours, there are still things we can do to help that calf get through the outbreak. The major factor in calf deaths from scours is simply due to dehydration.  When dealing with a scour calf, priority number one is to get fluids into the calf via IV or tube feeding.  Once fluid levels are corrected, working with your veterinarian to identify which type of pathogen is the source of the scours, a custom treatment plan can be put into place to help treat that calf for the scour pathogen they have.  I hope that this has made understanding the complicated topic of scours just a bit easier.  As always, please reach out to the Mid-Iowa Feed Team for any questions regarding cow and calf nutrition this spring.

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