Scours In Calves

Scours is a term for diarrhea in calves under a month old. The condition can strike as early as the first 24-hours after they’re born, and is life-threatening if not treated. It’s caused by bacteria and viruses.

Gregg Hanzlicek is a bovine veterinarian at Kansas State University. He says it’s dehydration that will eventually kill the calf if it’s not treated. There’s a simple test that producers can use to determine the level of hydration.

"You pull the skin away from the side of the neck and make a tent out of it, and then you just let it go and count how many seconds till it becomes flat again," he says. "If it’s less than two-seconds to become flat, then you can basically say this calf’s not dehydrated and I don’t need to be concerned about providing fluids for this calf at this time."

Now, if you do the test and it takes more than two-or-three seconds for the skin to lie flat, you’ll immediately need to start the calf on an electrolyte solution. Give it up to two-quarts at a time, two-or-three times per day, until the symptoms are gone.

Antibodies from colostrum in the mother’s milk is the best defense against scours. Hanzlicek says for full protection, the calf needs to nurse within two-to-six hours of birth.

"That calf is born with no immunity, so it depends on the antibodies in the colostrum to be protected. But we also know if they consume that colostrum after about six-hours of life, they don’t absorb many of the antibodies," he says.

Hanzlicek says calves should be born in a clean area, away from other animal feces.

Learn more about the prevention and treatment of calf scours