Reduce scours outbreaks through proper management

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Nothing causes as much loss to a cattleman as calf scours. Not only does scours decrease performance, but also profitability. Yet, cattlemen can reduce the occurrence through sound management practices.

“Scours can be prevented with good management practices such as proper nutrition, immunization, good husbandry practices and genetic selection,” said Dr. Mike Moore, professional services veterinarian with Novartis Animal Health. Moore said cattlemen can reduce the risk by following these management strategies:

Provide good nutrition to pregnant cows — Cow nutrition during the last half of gestation can directly impact the risk of scours. Cows need to have sufficient protein, energy and micronutrients, and should maintain a body condition score of 5.5 to 6. Good nutrition enhances the chances of producing good colostrum.

Immunize cows — A cow’s own level of immunity affects her colostrum’s quality. Antibodies from vaccination are passed to calves through colostrum. Adequate time between vaccination and calving is required to allow the cow to produce an immune response and transfer the antibodies into the colostrum. When calves are born, they have no immunity so proper colostrum management and feeding is crucial.

Manage pastures and facilities — Risk increases with higher stocking rates. The longer cows are left on a pasture and the more cows in the pasture the higher the amount of contaminated fecal matter that can come into contact with a cow’s udder. Cattlemen should rotate feeding and bedding sites in the calving pasture to avoid manure accumulation. Springing cows should be brought into a separate calving area.

Corrals and pastures should be sloped or drained to minimize moisture. Dragging the pasture to disperse manure and aid in drying of the manure can help. Remove soiled bedding from shelters. Try to avoid cold, damp, drafty or humid conditions inside sheds.

Sudden weather changes, such as cold temperatures, heavy snow and rainfall, increase the risk. Provide windbreaks, sheds and barns if possible.

Maximize calving ease — Dystocia reduces vigor of the cow and calf as well as slowing the time between birth and the calf’s first nursing. Developing heifers adequately before breeding and selecting calving ease bulls will influence the risk of scours.

Train staff — Different staff members have varying degrees of hygiene and handling methods which can lead to calf stress. Staff should always clean and sterilize feeding utensils and facilities. Workers should wash hands thoroughly and wear waterproof boots that can be washed and disinfected.

Give special attention to heifers — Calves born to heifers are at higher risk of scours than calves born to mature cows.1 The immunity level of calves born to heifers is generally lower. Cattlemen need to be even more vigilant about good nutrition, vaccination and colostrum feeding when it comes to first- calf heifers.

“Scours prevention doesn’t start with the birth of a calf. It is a year-round effort, but these techniques will result in a healthier herd overall and reduce the incidence of scours,” Moore said. For more information about scours prevention, visit

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