Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:48

The Scours Scourge: Managing to prevent neonatal ruminant diarrhea

Written by  Dwayne Summach, Sask. Agriculture
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An outbreak of scours can have substantial economic consequences for a livestock operation.

While most scouring calves will survive when provided therapeutic treatment, they remain more susceptible to additional health complications and perform at a lower level. The time required to treat young calves during calving can drain the energy out of the human personnel that is supposed to be watching for the arrival of additional newborns.
Scours can be caused by a number of different things. E.coli, Salmonella, rotavirus, coronavirus and cryptosporidium are common causative agents. Often the appearance of the feces can suggest a cause. For example, pasty, gelatinous feces are often the result of simply overindulging in too much milk. Regardless of the cause, treatment revolves around rehydration.  The use of a good quality powdered electrolyte, mixed as directed and fed to the calf using a bottle, or if necessary a stomach tube, is often the first step to recovery. The use of antibiotics can be warranted if the cause is bacterial, but they will be of little effect on viral or parasite caused scours.
Prevention is the key to minimizing the potential for a scours outbreak. Vaccinating the cow herd six weeks prior to calving with a scour vaccine boosts the antibodies present in the dams colostrum. This is only effective if the calf drinks an adequate amount following birth to receive the benefit of passive immunity. Vaccination of the cows alone will not prevent scours if good husbandry practices are not followed. The calves require a clean, dry warm place to be. The newborns and mothers should be moved to a clean area or pasture daily, to reduce their exposure to the causative agents shed from older calves.
In reality, weekly bunching of pairs can be beneficial as part of an overall disease prevention strategy. Identification of calves that appear sick, lethargic, droopy, or show a lack of a curious nature, and isolating them during treatment, can reduce the number of subsequent infections. Excellent hygiene and disinfection of equipment, including regular laundering of outerwear, should occur in order to minimize the spread of potential vectors that cause scours.
In the event of a significant scours outbreak, contact your local veterinarian for advice on treatment and developing preventative strategies.
For information regarding livestock husbandry contact your Ministry of Agriculture Regional Livestock Specialist; the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377; or visit the Ministry of Agriculture website at

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