Calf scour is present in almost all farms. It is a constant battle on farms to keep it at bay and to keep all calves healthy. But what are the most common types of scour and how best to treat them?


K99 is an e.coli type scour and normally this particular strain of scour will only effect calves in the first 7 days of life. Some of the signs are slight traces of blood in the scour indicating that it is e.coli as it effects a deeper lining of the stomach which sometimes causes bleeding which will be evident in the scour. The treatment for this is antibiotics and calf scour treatments products. Choose a product that has high nutritional content which will help the calf get through this stage. Another factor which will help is to keep the calf at a constant warm tempature and ensure that it is lying in a dry area. The best prevention of this is to use vaccine. You could also make sure that the calf gets enough of the mothers colostrum within the first few hours of life as this is essential for the calf to create immunity to scours like K99.

Coronavirus, Rotavirus and Cryptospiridium

The next type of scour we will discuss is the viral and protozoon causes of calf scour. There are three types of common scours – coronavirus, rotavirus and cryptospiridium. These three particular scours will attack the lining of the gut in different ways to the e.coli and thus the acutal scour itself will be yellow in colour and watery. There is no treatment for this as it is a virus and antibiotics will have no effect. The best line of action to take in the case of these three scours is constant rehydration and nutritional supplements which will help to keep the lining of the stomach healthy. Again the best prevention for these is a vaccine, which will cover cornavirus and rotavirus but there is no vaccine available against cryptospiridium which remains a major problem on most farms in the country.

The viruses Cryptospiridium, rotavirus and coronavirus are all shed by cows and heifers in the herd and this is where the problem lies . If the burden of bacteria in the calving area is high then this increases the chances of the calves contracting these virsus. The best treatment in these cases is to ensure that the calf has received enough colostrum within the first few hours of life – this can not be emphasised enough.

The second thing is to have the calving pens clean and have a seperate area for calves under two weeks of age and have them cleaned out and disinfected on a regular basis. You will need a very strong disinfectant to clean the calving boxes as it will take a top end disinfectant to have any effect on these particular bugs. Bi-oo Cyst is a new product on the market and also for a daily treatment Stalason F powder sprinkled over the straw will help to keep the burden down in the calving pens. It is advisable to keep these young calves as far away from older calves and cattle as this is where they will contract the virus.

Studies have found that cows low in certain trace elements and vitamins will not have the quality colosturm and milk that the calf needs for a proper healthy diet so it is essential that all in-calf cows should get either a vey good mineral added to their feed or a mineral bolus. Nowadays the most popular method of introducing minerals to in-calf cows is by bolus. There are either All Trace or All Sure boluses in this market. They have been proven and tested to keep high levels of vitamins and minerals in the cows system for up to 6months. This will ensure a well developed calf, a healthier calf and ensure that the mik and colostrum provided by the mother will carry these trace elements and vitamins for the calf. As a prevention, Denis Brinicombe Group has devised a product called crypto caps which are an excellent aid in reducing the cases of cryptospirium on infected calves. In the case where minerals have not been given, either by boluses or in feed, the quickest method to top up the animals levels is with a Tubby Precalver bucket. This is a high end product where the animals will only lick the bucket if it is low in minerals. This will quickly improve the animals ability to calve and produce good quality colostrum.

Nutritional Scour

The other type of scour is a nutritional scour. Calves with a white scour, usually within the first 3 weeks of life, have experienced some change in their diet. The cow has either increased her milk production by changing her feed or with bucket fed calves, the amount has increased. This means that the milk is passing through the system, undigested, as there is too much milk to be digested at that time. This can also be caused by changes in the feeding regieme or the time the calf is fed. In suckling herds this may happen when the mother goes to graze leaving the calf behind and returning hours later with more milk available for the calf than he is used to. In a bucket rearing situation the calf is not getting feed at regular intervals. This is very important to the calves system as if he is left to his own devices he will feed at regurlar intervals either by the mother or bucket fed. This type of scour ususally presents very little problems as many of the calves, if they are still active and alert, do not require treatement. The scour will clear up in time. If the calf becomes depressed or dull, treatment is needed.

The Signs of a Scour

A calf with scour is quickly loosing all or most of the nutrients coming from the cows milk as the water and the milk mixture, the salt, everything is pasing through the system and not being obsorbed into the blood stream. This leaves a week calf who becomes lathargic and unable to walk. The first signs are a dry nosea and sunken eyes. If a calf is at this stage of infection, quick action is needed and the best way is to give regular calf rehydration powders, preferabley something with added vitamins, minerals and salts to help keep the calf’s system up and running. Products such as Boviferm Plus or Calf Aid can help. Both these products have decent amounts of vitamins, minerals and rehydration capablities including salt. As the calf loses fluid the blood thickens and this puts the heart under strain as it pumps the blood around the tissues of the body leaving the calf very week so this is why it is important to keep fluid with the calf at all time. In all cases, feed the calf up to four times as day with the interval being spread over the 24hrs. One and a half liters at a time is better than 2 – 2.5 litres per feed as it can over overfill the calf causing bloating and putting the organs like the lungs and heart, adding to the strain on the calf – small feeds at regular intervals.

Keep an eye on his temperature, feeling its nose and ears. If his body temperature appears to be dropping and his nose and ears are cold it is best to put him under an infra red lamp. Ensure its not too close, roughly about 2ft over the calf as if its too close it could over heat the calf or burn the calf’s skin so it is best to keep at a resonable height. Monitor the calf’s temperature and anything below 100of will mean that the calf is in trouble and his blood sugars are low, at this stage he needs heat. This will contribute to weekness and other problems associated with the scour so it is important to keep the calf warm. A calf with a temperature of over 101.5of has a fever and early action is always best. It is a good habit to regularly check temperatures.

In severe cases of calf scour, where the calf is cold and week and becomes sleepy it is best to introduce electrolytes intervenously as this is the best line of treatment when the calf is that far through. Calves with this level of infection, the lining of their gut becomes acidic and the best treatment is to put ½ a teaspoon full of bicarbonate into each feed. This will work as an alkalisation agent in the calves stomach, keeping the balance right and encouraging a healthy gut. It is also important to remove the calf from the calving area as soon as the first symptoms occour and thoroughtly wash and disinfect this area. It is imporatnt to keep the calf away from the rest of the herd, if possible. It is also important to sterilise the stomach tube and keep it solely for the introduction of colostrum to the new born calf. Using the same stomach tube on the farm for both new born and sick animals will introduct infection to the newborn calf. The isolation of these calves will help in the control of the scour within the farm.

New born calves will benefit from vitamin A injection. Vitamin A difficiency is associated with scours. The calf should be given 1cc of Vitamin A as early after birth as possible.
The most convenient method to administer the vitamin is using Calf Aid and with its other vitamins and trace elements is a great boost to the young calf’s life.

In the aftermath of a severe scour it is best practice to feed amino acid and yeast to the recovering calf and with added vitamins will build up the calf and aid in its recovery. This will help heal the lining of the stomach. Products, such as Rumen Booster, are excellent when used in the recovery of a calves disgestive system. This will help prevent the reoccurrence of scour.

Tips for minimising the risk of scour

• Adequate nutrition and minerals for in-calf cows and heifers
• New born calves can benefit from a vitamin A injection
• Seprate area for calving and seperate equipement
• Ample colostrum in the first hours of life
• Small feeds – regular intervals
• Regular washing and disinfection of pens
• Check temperatures regularly
• Act quickly and regularly with treatment
• Regular feeding times and quantities

All products listing above are available in the Agriland Shop.