Calf scours is a debilitating problem generally seen as acute watery diarrhoea, weight loss and dehydration in calves less than 30 days of age.

It is a complex, multifactorial disease involving the calf, environment, nutrition and the infectious agents. Calves that succumb to this disease often die and those that recover tend to be predisposed to poor growth rates and performance throughout their lives as calves and heifers. There are a number of infectious agents involved but they all result in the same signs as mentioned above. Sometimes it may be beneficial to identify the organism causing the scours as there may be a persistent problem on farm and identification could allow preventative measures to be implemented. There are a number of risk factors associated with calf scours which include:

• Inadequate colostrum intake
• Poor feeding hygiene
• Poor feeding routine (milk storage, mixing, and temperature)
• Poor housing (dampness, draughts, contamination build up)
• Overcrowding
• Inadequate management of sick calves

Calves suffering from acute diarrhoea generally require fluid to restore the fluid volume deficit, correct electrolyte imbalances, blood pH and cover for ongoing fluid loss. You can tell by tenting the skin by a gentle pinch and checking elasticity over the eye or neck area. If it stands up and doesn't return quickly then the calf is seriously dehydrated.


Different methods of fluid administration are given depending on how badly they are affected. Standing calves that are able to swallow are best given oral fluids that they can suckle, whereas calves that are very depressed and recumbent most often require stomach tubing or intravenous fluids to restore the fluid volume quickly. Not all electrolyte replacers are equal on the market — your veterinarian can offer advice in terms of balance, energy and acid-base correction.

Regardless of the cause of the diarrhoea, the outcome for the calves is vastly improved the faster they are treated. Calves will progress very quickly from early signs of disease to severe depression and death. Generally good observation and intervention in my experience is the difference for success. Removing calves into a sick pen is also ideal to help prevent spread of disease to normal calves.