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LEA-White Farms Registered Highland Cattle

Charlotte, Michigan

Calf Scours: Causes and Treatment

Calf scours is a syndrome caused by a number of conditions or agents, that results in neonatal calf diarrhea. The result is a net loss of water and electrolytes from the calf’s body via the intestines. This can lead to life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

The main infectious organism that can cause diarrhea in beef calves are rotavirus, coronavirus, Cryptosporidium parvum, and E. Coli (K99 enterotoxigenic form.)

E. Coli usually affects calves in the first few days of life, while rotavirus, coronavirus and Cryptosporidium affect calves usually between 7 and 21 days of age​

The severity of the illness is dependent upon three things: the dose of the organism that the calf is exposed to; level of calf immunity (colostrum quality, quantity and absorption); and stress on the calf.

Treatment should be based upon severity of illness. Calves racing around the pasture, kicking up their heels, with yellow or white diarrhea probably do not need treatment. The four gauges of illness are general disposition, appetite, dehydration and body temperature.

If the calf is weak, depressed or reluctant to move, something generally is wrong. If the calf is not eating, the cow’s udder will be distended, and this is an indication to further observe the calf. Dehydration can be evaluated by pulling up the skin over the shoulders or the side of the neck. The skin should rebound to its normal position almost instantly. If the calf is dehydrated, the skin forms a tent, and will stay in that tented position for a period of time: the longer the time, the more severe the dehydration, the inside of the mouth may feel tacky instead of slick or slimey. As dehydration worsens, the eyeballs sink back into the head, you may notice a gap between the eyeball and the inner lid, and urine output may cease. Normal body temperature should be about 100.5 to 102.5 degrees F. Subnormal temperatures indicate the calf should be warmed, while an elevated body temperature could indicate that systemic antibiotics are indicated.

Treatment: Early Fluid Los

The calf is still standing, the skin “tents for less than 4 seconds, the eyes are bright and the oral membranes are moist or slick. This combination of signs indicated that the calf is less than 5% dehydrated and treatment with oral electrolytes is indicated. The calf may suck electrolytes from a bottle, although more than likely, you will need to tube the calf with either a stomach tube or an esophageal feeder. Add several 2 quart feedings of oral electrolytes per day until scouring slows. Leave the calf on milk (preferably its mother). Old information that suggested taking the calf off of milk for several days, and feeding only electrolyte solution, is wrong. Separate milk feedings from electrolyte feedings by a minimum of 30 minutes; 2 hours is probably better.

Moderate fluid loss (7% dehydration)

The calf is dull and lying down, but upright, the skin “tents” for 5 seconds, the eyes are slightly sunken, legs are cold, but the inside of the mouth is warm, but sticky. This calf needs 2 quarts of warm, high energy electrolyte solution by stomach tube or esophageal feeder (it will not have the energy to nurse from a bottle even if it would) immediately and again in several hours, kept in a warm area where it can be monitored, and electrolyte solution continued at replacement levels until recovery.

Severe fluid loss:(greater than 9%dehydration)

The calf is lying flat, comatose or close to it, the skin stays tented, the eyes are deeply sunken with a big gap betwen eyeball and lid, the legs are cold and the inside of the mouth is cold, pale and dry to the touch. This calf is very close to death and requires intravenous fluids immediately. Oral fluids will not be absorbed quickly enough to save the calf.

Calculating fluid requirements

Enough balanced electrolytes must be given to:

a.replace the amount of fluid already lost (correct the dehydration)

b. meet the daily requirement for fluid if the calf were not sick (roughly 50ml per kg of body weight, or 25 ml per pound of body weight.)

c. Keep up with the ongoing fluid loss from the diarrhea, which may be 1-4 liters of fluid a day.

For a calf weighing 100 pounds which is about 7% dehydrated,

100 # /2.2 = body weight in kg. = 45.45kg

45.45kg x .07 (%dehydration) = 3.18 kg = 3.18 liters = 3180 ml

(the great thing about the metric system)

45.54 kg x 50 ml (daily requirement per kg of body weight) =2277ml = 2.277 liters

1- 4 liters/day in ongoing fluid loss to diarrhea (big calf, go with largest amount)

3.18 liters + 2.277 liters + 4 liters = 9.457 liters per day for this calf = about 9.5 quarts per day.

This amount is in addition to the milk the calf is drinking.

It is a common mistake to give the calf too small an amount of fluid. If too much is given (within reason) the calf will urinate it away. The problem with giving too much fluid results from feeding too large an amount at one time. Give no more than 2 quarts or liters per tube feeding, but feed the required amount over the course of 24 hours.

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