Springtime calving. The time of year bringing longer hours of daylight, warmer sunshine, galloping baby calves, an end in sight with winter weather, cows nurturing their young – and scours.
“Cattle of any age can develop diarrhea, however, most cases of calf scours occur in the first month of life. There are a variety of causes of scours in baby calves,” says Kevin Gould and Dr. Dan Grooms of Michigan State University.
Scours, also called diarrhea, are watery stools that are shades of brown, grey, green and yellow. Blood and mucus in stools can be associated with scours.
The causes of this dehydrating immune killer are infectious agents including viruses, parasites and bacteria. Typically a case of scours includes a combination of these agents.
According to Gould and Grooms, the infectious agents are mostly shed in fecal matter.
“Studies have demonstrated that many pathogens responsible for scours are shed in the normal-appearing feces of healthy, pregnant beef cows and shedding increases as the pregnant cows approached their calving date, says Gould and Grooms. “Shedding is heaviest in heifers, and shedding tended to increase after cold weather.”
Healthy, older calves can become infected with the agents, also becoming culprits of contaminating the herd environment. This puts young calves in a war zone, especially in concentrated areas like feeding areas and shelters.
While cases can last 1-2 days or even up to 2 weeks, left untreated and they can result in death.
”The highest priority in treating scours is to give back to the calf the water and electrolytes that it has lost in scours – this is called fluid therapy,” says Gould and Grooms. “This corrects dehydration, restores normal acid-base balance, and replaces salts in the calf’s bodily fluids.”
Oral administration: Recommended for calves that are strong enough to follow their dams and move away when approached. This involves giving calves water and electrolytes with an esophageal feeder.
“Depending on the size of the calf and the severity of the scours, 2 - 6 quarts of electrolytes may need to be administered each day. Typically, the total volume of fluid is divided into two or more feedings per day,” says Gould and Grooms.
Intravenous administration: This is recommended for severe cases where calves have become too weak to stand and lethargic.
“Some experienced operators can place a catheter in a scouring calf’s vein; this is most often performed by a veterinarian or veterinary technician,” says Gould and Grooms. “The volume to be given depends on the calf’s size and the severity of the scours.”