News & Advice

Scouring calves is an unavoidable part of rearing calves. Scouring causes damage to the gut, meaning less nutrients and fluids are absorbed. In addition, fluid and energy are lost. Dehydration occurs, growth rates fall and in the worst situations death results.

Causes of Calf Scours

A nutritional scour is the most common cause of calf scours. This is usually caused by stress (such as transport), irregular feeding or overfeeding. Any change of diet should occur over 3 days. Electrolytes are required to replace lost fluid.

An infectious scour should be suspected if there are large numbers of unwell calves and deaths. Contact your vet.
Common causes are:

  • Viral (eg rotavirus)
  • Protozoal (cryptosporidia and coccidia)
  • Bacterial (salmonella)


Calf Scours – Transmission

There are thousands of infectious organisms in every gram of faeces. These are usually taken in by mouth, with food and / or water. They can be very difficult to remove from the calves’ environment so regular disinfection is a must.

Firstly check the level of dehydration. Pinch some skin on the neck of the calf (“tent test”), if the tent remains elevated for longer than 10 seconds, the calf is severely dehydrated and will probably require veterinary attention (IV fluids). The foundation of treatment is to replace lost fluids, electrolytes and energy. Nursing is also essential. Other treatments can include antibiotics (when bacterial disease is identified) and gut protectants.

Electrolyte mixtures are made up 2 litres at a time and fed 2-3 times / day. Weak and slow drinking calves should be stomach tubed with a calf easy drencher (eg Shoof). Generally more expensive electrolytes give better results, particularly in more severe cases. Revive is an excellent electrolyte. The similar looking and equally effective Diarrest has extra energy if milk is withheld. Withholding milk is not now recommended as the calf effectively starves and it’s immunity falls. A good strategy for treating scouring calves is:

Mild scouring:

  • Give milk in the morning, electrolytes midday, milk in the afternoon. Offer electrolytes overnight.

Moderate to severe:

  • Day 1 – Electrolytes in the morning, milk midday, electrolytes PM. Offer electrolytes overnight.
  • Day 2 – milk AM, electrolytes midday, milk PM. Offer electrolytes overnight.
  • Day 3 – as above or back to milk

Remember, scouring calves need nursing and must be dry and draught free, warm and stress free at all times. Ideally they will be isolated from healthy calves to prevent disease transmission. Calves should be on an absorbent floor surface (not concrete). Sawdust or shavings are advisable as they absorb fluids and faeces.


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