Successfully preventing calf scours
Professor of Dairy Science at Virginia Tech, Robert E. James, Ph.D., offered some useful reminders on successfully preventing calf scours, defined as diarrhea close to the consistency of water.
According to James, there are various challenges associated with scours. It is one of the leading causes of illness and death in pre-weaned heifers with nearly 25 percent incidence (NAHMS Dairy 2007) and causing 62.1 percent of deaths (NAHMS Dairy 2002). The results of scours include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, depression, more susceptibility to other disease and death. The common causes of scours are bacteria, viruses and protozoa. While scours can be considerably unhealthy and even fatal, it is important to note that a well-formed stool is not normal in young calves either.
Dry cow and calving care
Scours prevention begins with your dry-cows. Following a vaccination protocol of dams and calves as recommended by your herd veterinarian, who is most familiar with your operation, is highly recommended by James.
Dry cow nutrition is important as the body condition of the cow is reflected in her calf and influences calving ease. Emphasis on the qualitative importance of minerals and vitamins is also imperative.
Another key element in calving care is having and maintaining a clean calving environment by preventing fecal-oral contact. It is important to remember that a newborn is sterile at birth and colonization of bacteria is influenced by the environment. Essentially, there is a race between bacteria and colostrum antibodies.
Colostrum collection should be kept clean, so use only sanitized storage containers since bacteria grow rapidly in colostrum. Colostrum should be promptly cooled or fed right away.
James recommended that milking to feeding time be less than 2 hours. If longer, precooling is recommended by placing "clean" bottles of frozen water into containers of colostrum. Newborn calves absorb bacteria as readily as antibodies. The intestine of a newborn is very permeable and excessive bacterial growth can inhibit the colostrum antibody absorption.
Wet calf nutrition
James issued a reminder that calves are babies--a high-quality diet, especially during the first 4 weeks of life is important--so don't skimp on feed. Nutrients are essential for disease prevention as well as growth. Generally, calves use about 30 percent of nutritional resources to fuel their immune systems. He also recommended that you feed to accommodate environmental conditions. Be sure to sanitize feeding equipment; pasteurize waste milk; be consistent in nutrient content and solids; use medicated milk replacers and coccidiostats; and provide plenty of free-choice water and starter grain by Day 3 (DCHA GSI).
Last, but not least, it is important to control vectors that can spread disease. Some of these vectors include, but are not limited to, dogs, cats, birds, rodents and even humans. Those coming in contact with calves should keep clothing clean and feed sick calves last.
For additional information on colostrum management and nutrition, visit www.calfandheifer.org/?page=GoldStandards to review DCHA's Gold Standards I, sections IV and V.