More than half of all calf deaths are related to scours

Calf scours

Scours forms a major threat in the first weeks of life of a dairy calf. More than half of all calf deaths are related to neonatal diarrhoea. A number of organisms can play a role. Poor colostrum management and other nutritional factors such as poor quality calf milk replacers can also cause or contribute to neonatal calf diarrhoea.

Calf scours causes

Calf scours can be caused by infection, by incorrect feeding practices or a combination thereof. A number of organisms are recognised as important calf scours causes. Poor colostrum management and other incorrect feeding practices can also contribute to neonatal diarrhoea. Scours results in dehydration which can kill a calf. 

The danger of dehydration

Regardless of the cause, calf diarrhoea results in increased loss of electrolytes and water and a drop in milk intake. Ultimately, this process causes dehydration, a disturbed electrolyte balance and a negative energy balance from the lost nutrients and lack of milk. Dehydration is expressed as the percentage of body weight lost in the form of water.

Calf scours symptoms

Because dehydration can kill so rapidly, it is important to recognize calf diarrhoea and the signs of dehydration as early as possible. Therefore, check your calves twice daily, and provide an electrolyte solution immediately when signs of calf scours and/or dehydration are being observed. This will increase the chances the calf will recover rapidly.

  • Colostrum management

    Colostrum management

    Feed enough good quality colostrum in the first few days. Provide at least 4 litres of colostrum immediately after the calf is born and ensure it gets a total amount of at least 6 litres during the first 24 hours.

  • Feeding practices

    Feeding practices

    Use a high quality calf milk replacer (preferably LifeStart endorsed) and ensure it is fed at a correct feeding temperature of 39-41°C. Feed calves two or three times daily, and ensure each feeding takes place at the same time of day. Follow the recommendations of the manufacturer of the calf milk replacer. Even healthy calves shed low amounts of infectious organisms in their faeces; this amount goes up as the calf gets older. Therefore, feed calves in order of age, with the young ones fed first.


  • Housing


    Calves suffering from low levels of infection can be a source of infection to other calves. Therefore, keep calves in clean individual pens during the first 2 weeks of their life. Consider an “all-in all-out” system, and disinfect the pens regularly in between. Ensure proper ventilation.

  • Management of sick animals

    Management of sick animals

    Separate a sick calf from the healthy ones as diarrhoea can spread from one calf to other animals within the herd.

  • Calf scours management

    Calf scours management

    Most causes of neonatal calf diarrheoa are self-limiting; the animal will clear the infection without any treatment, unless the dehydration kills it. For this reason, calves suffering from scours should be offered a product that corrects dehydration such as Farm-O-San Rediar dietetic complementary feed. If one calf in a group starts scouring, others are likely to follow. It therefore makes sense to provide an electrolyte solution to the entire group.

How to manage your calves?

Colostrum management, feeding practices and housing are all important to try to avoid calf scours.

How to deal with calf scours?

Most causes of neonatal calf diarrhoea are self-limiting: the animal will clear the organism from its system, unless the dehydration resulting from the diarrhoea kills the calf before it recovers. But even when the calf recovers, the negative energy balance resulting from the temporary drop in milk intake is a problem. For this reason, calves with diarrhoea should be offered a product that corrects dehydration and restores their energy balance.

Farm-O-San offers a brochure with all you need to know about calf diarrhoea.

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