Neonatal diarrhea, more commonly known as calf scours, is the leading cause of death in dairy calves in the first month of life. Furthermore, the treatment of scours is difficult, labor intensive, costly and often unsuccessful. That’s why Kevin Hill, DVM Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, preaches prevention of neonatal diarrhea through the implementation of best management practices.
When it comes to prevention, Hill says, there are two keys for the dairy producer: immunity and exposure. “Scours is a concern for all dairy producers, but an effective scours prevention program can be simplified into two areas of focus,” says Hill. “Maximize immune function in your calves and minimize their exposure to disease.”
Hill says maximizing the immunity of the calf starts with the pregnant cow. “Even before the calf is born, it’s important to think about scours protection. An effective, broad-spectrum, scours vaccination program will ensure high levels of antibodies are available in colostrum for the calf.”
When the calf is born, getting the right amount of high-quality colostrum within the right amount of time is the most critical step in your scours prevention program. Hill recommends the following colostrum management tips to maximize immunity:
• Quantity – a 90-lb dairy calf should be fed one gallon of colostrum as soon as possible after birth and another gallon 12 hours later. If the calf will not drink that volume of colostrum, it should be fed with a clean and sanitized tube feeder.
• Quality – monitor colostrum quality, as antibody content can vary greatly from cow to cow. Colostrum quality can be improved significantly by vaccinating the dam prior to calving so that she produces more antibodies against the bacteria and viruses that commonly cause scours. Note that if feeding is delayed or if less colostrum is consumed, the quality of the colostrum is even more critical for the health of the calf.
• Storage – colostrum can be stored fresh in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours or frozen for use beyond 24 hours without significant loss of antibodies.
• Nutrition – feed calves for high performance. The immune system is driven by energy and protein, so if the diet of the calf is deficient in energy or protein, the level of protection from the immune system drops dramatically. Many 20/20 milk replacers fed according to label directions will not meet the calf’s nutritional and immune requirements, especially during periods of stress.
• BVD management – this family of viruses can create immunosuppression that opens the door to other infectious agents. Whole herd vaccination against BVD and rapid removal of persistently infected calves from the premises are essential for good herd BVD control.
The second key to preventing scours, Hill says, is minimizing exposure to the disease. Viruses, bacteria and protozoa cause infectious diarrhea and are virtually everywhere on the dairy. Hill identifies these essential areas to focus on to minimize exposure to these pathogens:
• Maternity pens – keep maternity areas clean and remove calves immediately from the cow and the calving pen. Both are significant sources of disease for a newborn.
• Nursing – do not allow the calf to nurse from its mother – the surface of the cow’s teats likely is contaminated and can expose the calf to scours-causing pathogens. Johne’s-positive cows also put the calf at risk.
• Hutches – place the calf in a dry, clean, individual hutch. Do not allow contact with feces, urine or nasal discharge from other calves, including the last calf to use the hutch.
• Feeding equipment – feed calves with clean, properly-stored colostrum in bottles and buckets that have been thoroughly washed, disinfected and dried.
Hill says that an effective scours prevention program is critical to the success of raising healthy calves, and it’s worth the investment in developing and maintaining protocols. “Raising calves is not a place to cut corners. They are the future of your dairy and worth the extra effort in giving them the best protection against scours and other diseases. Take the time to determine how you can do more to maximize immunity and minimize exposure to raise healthier, more productive calves,” says Hill.