Dealing with Calf Scours

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Calf Scours: Step 1

Most calf scours, or diarrhea, occur within the first 3 weeks of life, with about ¼ of all pre-weaned calves being treated. Keeping the calf hydrated with an electrolyte solution is the first and most important task. So it helps to have good idea of how much a scouring calf needs. It’s safe to assume that a calf with diarrhea and no other visible signs of dehydration is about 5% dehydrated. For a 100 pound calf, 5% dehydration means it has lost 5 pounds of water:

100 pound calf x 0.05 = 5 pounds

(easy to calculate for any size calf)

Since a gallon of water weights about 8 pounds, 2 quarts weigh 4 pounds. To keep our 100 pound calf hydrated we need to feed at least 4 pounds, or 2 quarts, of electrolyte solution. This is the amount that should be administered each day until the calf improves.

Keep in mind that the calf became 5% dehydrated while drinking milk or milk replacer. This means the calf needs the 2 quarts of electrolyte solution in addition to its regular diet, not instead of. Substituting electrolyte feeding for milk/milk replacer feeding dramatically reduces the calf’s nutrient intake, not to mention doing nothing to correct dehydration. You’re digging a deeper hole for the calf to climb out of when you use this replacement technique.

If the calf shows additional signs such as sunken eyes, depression, tight skin (skin tents when pinched) or water-like diarrhea, it may be about 8% dehydrated and in need of additional electrolyte feeding. In this case, our 100 pound calf needs 8 pounds or 4 quarts (2 quarts twice a day) of electrolyte solution to replenish lost fluids.

Rule of Thumb. Instead of estimating body weights and dehydration levels, a simplified version of this Untitled design-2-1.pngapproach is that calves with diarrhea but no other signs of dehydration need 2 quarts of electrolyte solution,  and calves with water-like diarrhea or other clinical signs of advanced dehydration need 4 quarts of electrolytes. This two-tiered approach adequately addresses most rehydration situations for most calves. 

Calves that are 10% or more dehydrated are poor candidates for oral rehydration therapy and require other methods of administering supportive fluids such as intravenous (IV) administration. Calves with extensive dehydration or suffering from septicemia, a condition where bacteria from inside the intestines have actually invaded the calf’s bloodstream, are typically lying down and are unable to stand or suckle.

Scour-causing Organisms.  Some organisms damage intestinal cells while others cause large amounts of water to be secreted into the digestive tract.  Both cases cause decreased absorption of fluids. Let’s say that a particular E.coli causes only 70% absorption of the electrolyte solution. What happens to the other 30%? Right, it passes through the calf and out the other end. This makes it look like the diarrhea is getting worse even though treatment is effective.

So keep your eye on the front end of the calf. If the calf is alert, active and wanting to eat, you are on the right track. Balance what’s happening at this end of the calf with what you see at the other.

Enhancing Immunity through Nutrition. To help re-establish a healthy digestivemanna_pro_calf_care_1lb.jpg tract after it’s been disrupted and damaged by pathogenic microorganisms, consider incorporating a product like Manna Pro’s Calf Care into you scour treatment protocol. The strategy is to prevent pathogens from interacting with the calf’s digestive tract through the use of probiotics, prebiotics and hyper-immunized egg protein, and Calf Care has all three.

Probiotic species such as those provided in Calf Care are beneficial bacteria that compete for nutrients, colonization sites and produce antimicrobial compounds that can either inhibit or kill pathogens. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers, including special sugars that provide energy to support the activity of probiotics, and yeast cell wall components which enhance the calf’s immune system and directly bind E. coli, blocking their activity. And hyper-immunized egg proteins contain antibodies against the very organisms that commonly cause intestinal diseases in calves, binding them and preventing them from interacting with the calf’s digestive tract.

Calf Care provides a solid combination of ingredients to help support the calf’s digestive tract and makes a great compliment to rehydration therapy during scours, digestive stress and an overall support for gut health.

Learn More About Calf Care

Rob Costello

Dairy Technical Manager, Milk Specialties Global.

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