Although many beef producers experienced more than the usual number of hypothermia cases in calves born this year due to several days of sub-zero temperatures, scours is still the No. 1 neonatal calf disease producers will fight year after year, according to K-State veterinarian Gregg Hanzlicek.
Hanzlicek, who is director of production animal field investigations for Kansas State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said scours has been a particularly common problem this spring. It is a disease caused by bacteria, viruses or protozoans, which leads to diarrhea and dehydration in calves.
Scours is considered a management disease, he said, because beef producers must understand the disease and do their part to prevent it through colostrum protection in their calves and environmental sanitation practices. If scours is present in the herd, producers should identify and treat the problem to prevent calf, and financial, loss.
The two bacteria involved in causing scours are E. coli and salmonella, Hanzlicek said. Two viruses, rotavirus and coronavirus, and two protozoans, cryptosporidium (crypto) and coccidium, also can cause the disease.
“Except for salmonella, the rest of those organisms are probably on every single cow/calf operation in the United States,” he said.
Hanzlicek said it might be a good idea for producers to obtain a manure sample and send it to a lab to find out what organism or organisms are causing the scours.
“Two of those organisms, salmonella and crypto, are zoonotic, meaning humans can pick them up from the calves,” he said.
If salmonella or crypto are involved, producers will have to be extra careful when they take their clothes or boots into the house after treating calves, as they could risk getting the disease themselves or passing the disease on to their family.
Diagnosing the disease and getting electrolyte fluids in the calves quickly is important to keep calves from becoming dehydrated, Hanzlicek said. Fluid treatment is necessary, regardless of what organism is causing the scours. Checking on calves at least once per day, if not multiple times per day, finding sick calves and intervening with fluids in the initial stages of scours will help save calves and benefit producers in the long run.
“When we’re talking about scours in calves, what kills the calf is dehydration,” he said. “It does take the organism to initiate the scours, but what really kills the calf is that they become dehydrated, and multiple organs start to shut down.”