Scours are the greatest cause of of poor growth and calf mortality in dairy and suckler herds, and for this reason farmers should always be on the lookout.
While scour in calves is curable, prevention is much better. Luckily, there are measures you can take to stop it from taking hold in your herd.
Here are just a few of the things you can do around calving time to stop scours.
Ensure that all newborn calves receive colostrum
This can’t be stressed enough.
Calves are born with a very poorly developed immune system, but antibodies found in a cow’s first milk after giving birth can help calves build that up.
As well as the vital antibodies being transferred from the dam, the hydration provided from the colostrum makes for a bright, healthy calf.
A handy way to remember best practice for colostrum feeding is 1, 2, 3:
- 1st milk only
- Within 2 hours of birth
- 3 litres
At birth, calves are composed of 70% water. However, becoming dehydrated provides the perfect building block for infectious agents to step in.
For this reason the calf needs to take on board as many fluids and electrolytes as they’re losing.
Vaccinate your cows
Vaccines should be administered to calves several weeks before calving. It is better to be prepared early, so keeping in touch with your vet will be key.
Ask your vet what vaccines you need, and when they should be administered.
Keep your calving area clean
Keeping your calving area clean is crucial to combat the rise of harmful diseases.
Keeping calving boxes spotless by hosing and disinfecting before and after calving season, and keeping calf-harmful minerals out of the box at all times are both good ways of creating a calf-friendly environment.
Additionally, using enough straw, and keeping good ventilation discourages the multiplication of bacteria.
Calf in dry areas
When calving indoors, calving boxes need to be kept clean. Clean. Dry bedding is essential, as mentioned before, and if your knees are wet after kneeling, it is not dry enough for calving cows.
If you are calving outdoors, your pasture should have minimal manure contamination. Moreover, it should be well sheltered and drained as dirty and wet bedding invites the spread of diseases.
AnimalHealthIreland.ie recommend that if water is visible on the ground surface or on your welly prints, it is not dry enough for calving cows.
No matter the location of your calving facilities, however,they need to be clean and dry. Dirty and wet bedding is an invitation for the spread of disease
Segregate calves by age
Older calves with more fully developed immune systems should be kept separate to younger calves, especially if they are stressed by calving, sickness or weaning.
This helps to prevent the passage of infectious agents from the hardier older calves to newborns.
Keep a good feeding programme for the cow during gestation
In the final three months of gestation, the calf absorbs most of what the cow or heifer is eating. According to Teagasc, 75-80% of the calf's eventual birth size is formed in the final two months before it is born.
If you want to avoid a weak and sickly calf it is paramount that the dam is eating right in this period.