Cryptosporidia is the most common cause of calf scour in Ireland, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Surgeon Colm Brady.

Speaking at a recent calf rearing event in Co. Wexford, the Department vet said that the bacterial disease is most likely to occur in calves between one-to-four weeks of age.

“It can spread very easily between calves in the herd as it is transmitted by faecal-oral spread.

“A calf suffering from Cryptosporidia can get a scour for a week or more. The calf can become dehydrated. It is a nasty dose and it can spread to humans, so hygiene is essential,” he said.

Symptoms of a Cryptosporidium outbreak
  • Calves appear weak
  • Calves have a scour with rapid weight loss
  • Calves become dehydrated as a result of the scour

The best way to identify the presence of this illness is to take faecal samples from untreated scouring calves, he said.

He also said that calves which die from scour on farm should be submitted to the Regional Veterinary Laboratory to confirm the exact cause of death.

Treating calves with Cryptosporidia

There is no vaccine currently available to treat this illness, he said, and therefore, good hygiene is important to control Cryptosporidia on farm.

However, he said, medication can be used in some cases to reduce the severity of symptoms which calves show.

He said that farmers should follow the three step rule to treat calves suffering from this infection. These steps include isolate, re-hydrate and to keep feeding the calf milk.

These steps include:

  1. Isolate
  2. Re-hydrate
  3. Keep feeding the calf milk.

He also advised farmers not to mix newborn calves with older calves. This causes a potential infection risk, as older calves may shed the eggs.

Brady also said that the hygiene on farm is very important as the disease can stay in the environment for a long period of time.

It is important to clean the shed thoroughly. Farmers should power wash and disinfect the calf housing each year as this can reduce the impact of the disease.