4 simple steps to avoid a scour outbreak as calf numbers grow

We are entering the thick of the calving season on dairy farms across the country, and as the number of calves on farms begins to grow, so does the risk of a scour outbreak.

Scour is the leading cause of death in calves under three months-of-age.

An outbreak of scour can not only be a stressful period of time on farms, it can also add to the workload at an already extremely busy time of the year. Not to forget the impact it can have on the calf, or calf’s health.

1. Colostrum

It goes without saying that colostrum is crucial to preventing a scour outbreak. Calves are born with no immunity, so colostrum is needed to provide the calf with vital antibodies needed to protect themselves against infection.

Also Read: Why colostrum is the most important feed a calf will get in its entire lifetime

Farmers must follow the one, two, three rule when feeding colostrum. The first feed is within two hours of birth with at least 3L of colostrum. As the season progresses, this rule must remain to the forefront of farmers’ minds.

2. Hygiene

Hygiene is of the utmost importance when trying to prevent a scour outbreak. The calf pens should be cleaned out and disinfected regularly. The calving area should also be cleaned out and disinfected when possible.

A bed shouldn’t be allowed to become damp or dirty. A clean, deep bed of straw should be kept under calves and cows at all times.

The same goes for feeding equipment. Teat feeders, buckets, bottles and stomach tubes must be kept cleaned – and disinfected regularly.

3. Don’t overstock sheds

Calves need a minimum space of 1.7m² each. Over-stocking pens will lead to an increased risk of scour or a disease outbreak.

To avoid this, sell bull calves as soon as possible; if this is an issue, alternative accommodation may need to be used until such a time as these calves can be sold.

4. Prompt identification and isolation

It is important that a calf which is acting poorly is picked up on as early as possible – to avoid disease escalation, infection of other calves or in the worst case death.

Once a calf is identified as having scour, the calf or calves must be isolated to help avoid it spreading to other calves. It is advisable to then take a dung sample to identify the cause of the scour.

If there is a scour outbreak, the following is advised:
  • Remove the sick calf or calves;
  • Re-hydrate – give calves electrolytes in milk or water;
  • Continue to feed milk/milk replacer – although a sick calf might have a reduced appetite, it is important that they are fed their daily feed as normal.