For dairy farms that will be producing milk over the winter months a focus is now being placed on preventing scour.
Scour is the biggest killer of young calves on dairy farms and although completely eliminating cases on farms will be difficult, the number and severity of cases can be reduced.
The severity and number of cases can be reduced by ensuring calves get off to the best start and high hygiene standards maintained within the calf shed.
Scour-causing parasites are Cryptosporidia and Coccidia; viruses that cause scour are Rotavirus and Coronavirus; while bacterial scour is caused by bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. Coli).
Calves that are showing symptoms of scour need to be separated from the other calves in the pen to prevent or reduce the risk of it spreading.
Sick calves should be given 3-4L of electrolytes in separate feeds to their milk feeds.
Keeping scouring calves hydrated is important. Farmers should continue to feed these calves milk, along with electrolytes in a separate feed.
A scouring calf is losing fluid which needs to be replaced, so it is important to continue to offer milk feeds, along with extra feeds of electrolytes.
Previously, some farmers would have stopped feeding milk to scouring calves, but research has shown that offering calves their milk feeds can reduce the length of sickness and recovery time.
It may also be worthwhile offering calves some anti-inflammatories to help with pain management and recovery.
Hygiene is vital in preventing cases, and hygiene standards should be kept strong from the calving pens through to the calf house.
The calf shed should be like a clean room; this isn’t achievable on most farms – but it should be kept as clean as possible.
Foot dips should be present at the entrance to the calf shed and access to the shed should be controlled.
All the milk-feeding equipment should be cleaned after each use. Ideally, farmers will have a feeder for each pen, but if not, it should be cleaned before being moved into another pen.
Colostrum is also vital for protecting calves from scour. Calves are born with no immunity so by feeding them colostrum you are providing the calf with antibodies to fight infectious diseases.
The feeding of colostrum and then transition milk to calves is extremely important if you have been vaccinating for scour.
But there should also be a focus on how hygienically the colostrum has been harvested.