Categorizing, Treating and Preventing Neonatal Scours in Calves

You go out to check the cows, and you see a calf with scours — what do you do?

For many producers, the first course of action involves a bolus gun. But, it’s actions like this that have led Franklyn Garry, professor at Colorado State University, to unabashedly assert that “we grossly overuse antibiotics.”

Neonatal Scours

Garry was a speaker at the recent UCVM Beef Cattle Conference in Calgary, where he broke neonatal scours into two categories. The first, which he calls “true scours,” involves viral and protozoal pathogens, including: Cryptosporidium, rotavirus and coronavirus.

“These infections do not kill calves,” Garry said. Rather, he told conference attendees, it’s the resulting loss of fluids and electrolytes that can be fatal. In other words: dehydration.

The second category of scours, according to Garry, is bacterial, and distributes through the blood, involving multiple organs and inflammation. This group includes salmonella, E. coli, and clostridial enteritis.

“The reason I group them with that distinction between them is because the calves with scours —Crypto, corona- and rotavirus — respond very, very well without a lot of antibiotics and require the treatment protocol really intensive focus on electrolyte and fluid therapy,” he explained. “Whereas, the calve that have salmonella, E. coli, bacterial enteritis, may require some fluids but fluids are not as important as combatting the inflammation.”

Symptom Assessment

If you stumble upon a calf with neonatal scours, the first thing to do is access physical symptoms beyond diarrhea. Calves suffering from dehydration are likely to have peripheral perfusion (cold extremities), a sunken eyeglobe position, reduced strength/activity and will develop a “skin tent” when pinched under the eye or on the neck.

Those suffering from inflammation, on the other hand, may have a fever, abdominal fill, and show signs of depression that seem to outweigh diarrheal issues. Lifting the eyelid might also reveal overly red blood vessels (in dehydration these will appear pale).

Prevention

Preventing scours means minimizing exposure and maximizing resistance. Garry suggests ensuring:

  1. Good hygiene
  2. A dry environment
  3. Dystocia is managed/limited
  4. Calves receive good perinatal care
  5. Newborn calves see colostral immunoglobulin transfer
  6. Animals are receiving all the nutrients they need to maintain health

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