Calves can lose 5 to 10 percent of their body weight due to water loss within one day of scouring. Fluid loss above 8 percent requires intravenous treatment, and above 14 percent can result in death. The amount of water lost can be approximated by skin-tenting, gum condition, attitude and ability to suckle, says Sylvia Kehoe, professor of animal science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
To use skin-tenting, pinch a fold of skin and count the seconds it takes to flatten — less than two seconds indicates normal hydration; two to six seconds indicates 8 percent dehydration, and greater than six seconds indicates severe dehydration of more than 10 percent.
Evaluate gums by looking at their color and feeling them for moisture. Normal gums should be pink and damp. But if gums are white and dry, it indicates 8 to 10 percent dehydration. One of the best measures of estimated dehydration and illness in calves is their attitude during milk-feeding. Calves may show no symptoms of dehydration, but if they need encouragement to drink, monitor them closely for scouring or other illnesses.
Have a set protocol so everyone is on the same page and knows what to do when calves show these symptoms.