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Scours Prevention

By Dr. Brett Kroeze

It is that time of year again when we start to see new life in the bovine world.  With the new arrival of next year’s profits, it is important to try and decrease the disease processes that go along with it, such as scours. Especially when we are calving early and in confined areas when the temps are cold. There are three aspects that I like to break down scours prevention into: the cow, the calf, and the facilities.

The Cow:

The cow starts with good solid nutrition.  Ensure you are getting enough energy into these girls, especially through the winter months.  Aim for a body condition score of 5-6 on a 9 scale. When you have them up in the yard and feeding them, it is a good time to adjust feed and condition scores.  It is also vitally important to have a good mineral program in place to help the developing fetus, colostrum production, and immune system.  The timing of vaccinations is also important for scours prevention and overall good health of the cow and calf.  Scours vaccines should be given 6-8 weeks before calving.  Cows start making and putting antibodies into the colostrum 5-6 weeks before calving and timing the vaccine to have the highest immunity at this time will help produce higher quality colostrum. Good scour vaccines include Guardian, Scour Bos 9 and ScourGuard 4KC.

The Calf:

The calf starts with drying off and getting food into its belly.  These are probably the two most important things to remember with the calf.  The sooner the calf is dried off the warmer the calf will be.  It takes heat and energy for the placental fluid to evaporate off of the calf.  Therefore the more the mother licks off or you dry off the more energy that calf will have for survival.  Getting good colostrum into the calf is another essential aspect.  Usually, this part is easy because most calves get up within 30-45 minutes after calving and start sucking on the cow.  As long as the cow has good quantity and quality of colostrum the job is done.  In a calf, there is not much reserve body fat to burn for energy, therefore it is essential for them to get food into their system as soon as possible. It may be necessary to help out calves that do not get up right away and suckle either by milking the cow and feeding the calf her colostrum or using colostrum supplement or replacer.
It is important to look at the product you are using and understand how you are using it.  If you are going to replace the mother’s colostrum you will need to use a colostrum replacer that has at least 100g of IgG’s.  The newer standards are looking at 150-200g of IgGs. If you are just looking to supplement colostrum using a product that has 50g IgG will suffice.  Looking at ingredients is also important, supplements made from dried colostrum are going to be better than others but they also come at a higher price tag.  Other products to consider fighting off scours are supplements that can be given at birth.  These include: Bovine Ecolizer, Bovine Ecolizer + C20, First Defense, Calf Guard.  These products can be used to help increase immunity to scour pathogens that you are fighting on your farm.

The Facility:

The facility is the final part that often gets overlooked.  The environment that the calves are born into and are housed for the first month of their life is very important.  Concentration will play a big part in the pathogen load on these calves.  The more animals that are in a given space means there will be more pathogens in that area to cause disease.  Before you start calving make sure all manure and bedding is cleaned out so that you can eliminate any pathogens present from the previous year.  It is also a good idea to use a disinfectant on the solid surfaces such as cement, wood, plastics and gates to help kill off any pathogens present.  Synergize, Virkon, bleach and Oxine are just a few disinfectants available, but some will work better for different diseases.  The use of barn lime or other drying disinfectant powders on the ground will help dry and kill bugs and spores that are in the soil.

Once you have the facilities cleaned and sanitized, add fresh dry bedding.  As the calving season progresses, it is important to make sure that bedding stays dry.  An easy test is to kneel down and sit on your knees, if they get wet you need to add more bedding or clean out and start over.  It is important to remember that as you move more animals through the calving facility the pathogens will also increase.  It may be beneficial to clean out and disinfect multiple times during the season as it is not always a one-time fix.  Don’t forget about your calving and feeding supplies, these should also be disinfected before the start of calving and also in-between animals to stop the spread of disease from one animal to the next.

During this upcoming calving season don’t forget about one of the three important aspects to having a successful calf crop, the cow, the calf and the facilities. For questions or consultations please talk to one of our cattle veterinarians.

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