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By Staff | Mar 1, 2013

The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is as true in livestock production as it is anywhere else.

Now that calving season is under way, beef producers are turning their attention to preventing calf scours and other neonatal diseases. Scours is one of the most costly conditions cattlemen deal with because it increases death loss and decreases rate of gain in affected calves, resulting lower weaning weights. Fortunately, extra steps taken during calving season can minimize the incidence and impact of scours.

Ideally, producers begin combating scours long before calving season begins. Bred cows can be vaccinated 30 to 60 days prior to calving for E. coli and other pathogens that cause scours. This is especially recommended in first-calf heifers because they have fewer protective antibodies built up in their system and therefore supply less immunity in their colostrum. Assuring proper nutrition prior to calving also allows females to provide enough quality colostrum.

Environmental conditions at calving play a large role in the incidence of scours. Calves born later in the season are at higher risk due to the accumulation of pathogens in the calving area. Management systems like the Sandhills Calving System allow cows to stay where they calve and move those about to give birth to cleaner environments. This means newborn calves have fewer pathogens to battle and the number of scour cases drops accordingly. If a system like this isn’t possible, it’s still important to prevent stress by providing a clean, dry environment that’s not overcrowded.

Once calves are on the ground, the next step in managing scours is to make sure calves get enough quality colostrum. As a general guideline, a calf should receive 5 percent of its bodyweight as colostrum within the first six hours and another five percent of its bodyweight by the time it’s 12 hours old. It’s important to keep a ready supply of frozen colostrum on hand and there are a variety of colostrum supplements also available.

After calving, monitor calves at least once a day to check for signs of scours. Typically, calves will be affected at seven to 20 days, although scours caused by bacteria like E. coli develops before five days of age. Although looking at the feces may provide some clues as to the cause behind each case of scours, a veterinarian should be consulted to determine necessary changes in management practices or vaccination protocols.

Regardless of the cause, scours is typically treated by giving two liters of an oral electrolyte solution one to three times a day. In severe cases, IV fluids may be needed. Because calves with scours have a higher risk of developing secondary infections, many producers use an antibiotic as a precaution. It usually takes two or three days of treatment for calves to come around.

Although most calves treated for scours can be saved, the cost of treatment and associated labor can cut deeply into a producer’s bottom line.

The costs continue to add up beyond calving season, though. Calves that suffer through scours typically gain less and wean 20 to 35 pounds below those that were healthy early on. It seems an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure when a lack of scours prevention results in fewer pounds of beef at market.

Angie Gentry handles inside sales for JRG Supply in Fort Dodgge. Contact her at (800) 354-7433.

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