More and more farmers are vaccinating cows pre-calving against scour in calves according to Cork veterinary practitioner Pat Noonan.

However, he also said while the number of farmers choosing the option is undoubtedly increasing each year, there are some farmers still willing to take the chance.

“It is only when a farmer hits a problem with scour that the benefits of vaccination become clear,” added Pat, who runs O’Brien and Noonan Veterinary Clinic in Fermoy with partner Conor O’Brien.

30 calves lost
Noonan said he has seen cases where up to 30 calves were lost as a result of a scour outbreak.

“Calves are at greatest risk of E coli infection in the first five days after birth, while rotavirus and coronavirus typically hit between four and 30 days after birth. Around 30% of all deaths under one month are due to scour and rotavirus is the most common cause.

“Where an E coli outbreak occurs, it can have lethal consequences on individual farms. Farmers should also be very conscious of cryptosporidium, another prevalent cause of scour in very young calves,” said Pat.

One-shot vaccine
According to Noonan a one-shot vaccine given between three and 12 weeks before calving ensures that the cow’s colostrum contains antibodies that protect against three of the main causes of scour – rotavirus, coronavirus and E coli.

Finding the cause is key
Noonan believes that where an outbreak of scour occurs, it is important to establish the cause.

This will enable the most effective course of treatment, he said.  “Scour damages the lining of the gut, resulting in rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes.

Noonan highlighted that a scouring calf can lose up to four litres of fluids a day.

“It is vital that these fluids and electrolytes are replaced and sufficient energy is provided to enable the calf to recover with minimal weight loss. Milk should not be withdrawn while the calf is on fluid therapy,” he advised.

Colostrum key
The failure to give enough colostrum to calves immediately after birth is a big management deficiency on many farms, according to Noonan.

Analysis by the Department of Agriculture’s veterinary laboratories has shown that approximately two-thirds of calves that died within two weeks of birth had not received enough good-quality colostrum.

Noonan said poor housing and lack of attention to hygiene are also major contributors to scour outbreaks.

“When a farmer is exhausted and exasperated treating sick calves, that’s when cleaning out and hygiene is most likely to be neglected. Paying attention to cleanliness is much easier when things are going well,” he said.