Mark Hilton, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, Purdue University, believes beef producers and their veterinarians should shoot for a goal of 0% calf scours.

“I seriously see zero cases year after year on our herds on the Integrated Resources Management program we have in Indiana,” Hilton said at the Dr. Jack Walther 85th Annual Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas this week. “I had a client show me a bag of electrolytes he bought about 10 years ago and asked it if was still good because he never had to use them.”

But, calf scours are a reality on many beef operations. Hilton said a veterinarian should be called after the first case of scours is observed. “After the first calf with diarrhea the history needs to be evaluated to see what went wrong. Something went wrong and there is no reason to repeat the mistake.”

If a producer sat down and consulted with the herd health veterinarian, which might cost $75 for the consulting fee, the producer could save thousands of dollars on medicine, sick calls and dead calves, Hilton noted. “I am a big fan of having a plan and a checklist of management actions to prevent calf scours fits perfectly with the goal of preventing a problem.”

What do we know from evidence based medicine as to prevention of neonatal diarrhea? Hilton offered this information:

  • Winter heifers separately from cows. Odds ratio 3.60.
  • Calve heifers separately from cows. Odds ratio 1.67.
  • Keep group size under 50 cow-calf pairs.
  • Calve females in adequate BCS. The goal for heifers is 6.5 – 7.0 and for cows BCS 5.5-6.0.
  • Reduce/eliminate areas of mud in wintering and calving area.
  • Never buy calves for cows or heifers that lose their calves.
  • Never buy any cattle to add to the herd just prior to or during the calving season.
  • Calve at a time of year when environmental conditions are conducive for a neonate to be born outside.
  • Do not allow access to a building where both cows and calves can enter. It becomes a cesspool of disease organisms and almost guarantees neonatal morbidity.
  • Use calf huts or other shelter where only calves can enter if calving in inclement weather.
  • Do not expect vaccine given to cows or calves to prevent disease all by itself.
  • Utilize a quarantine area for diarrheal calves and their dams.
  • Management factors that allow for improved calf vigor at birth (improving heterosis and calving at a time of the year with a more conducive environmental temperature) with improved colostral intake are essential to decreasing calf morbidity and mortality.

Aside from being the right thing to do for calf health, there is a huge economic cost to not managing calf scours. “We have $600-700 in the calf the minute he hits the ground. We need to have them all survive,” Hilton noted.

“Veterinarians need to be better marketers of their skills in preventing problems. We as a profession worry too much about the clients perceiving us as trying to ‘sell’ them something. We need to get rid of that mentality and do more for our producers. They want the partnership with their herd health veterinarian and we need to be more proactive for them.”