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USDA: Scours most common cause of calf death prior to weaning

Scours is responsible for more calf deaths prior to weaning than any other cause, according to the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring Survey. Scours reduces the secretion of acid into the abomasum, reducing the ability to digest milk protein. It is characterized by frequent diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by blood, mucus, or bright yellow or white feces. Scouring calves may be weak, reluctant to feed and have sunken eyes, elevated temperatures and peaked or tented skin.

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Scours often results from stress and nutritional inadequacies. Stress can be caused by environmental factors such as overcrowding, sudden changes in the weather, extreme cold or heat, dampness, drafts or humidity, poor handling practice and poor sanitation. Nutritional scours can advance to infectious scours, in which viruses, bacteria and protozoa overpower the immune system in the intestines.


Colostrum should be fed as soon as possible after birth, but certainly within the first 24 hours. It should be collected using sanitary equipment, tested for IgG concentrations with a Brix refractometer, labeled and refrigerated quickly.

Careful observation — at least three times a day — helps catch symptoms early. Early symptoms include:

• Milk refusal

• Not getting up eagerly at feeding

• Dry muzzle, thick mucus at nostrils

• Changes in feces consistency

• Body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit


Once calves have developed scours, work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment protocol and identify the source of scours. Treatment will most likely include oral electrolyte therapy and in severe cases (due to dehydration) intravenous (IV) administration of sterile saline. Antibiotics may be administered for infectious scours.

Scouring calves should be housed in a clean, dry, warm pen and fed small, frequent amounts of milk replacer (and electrolytes).

-Source: Dairy Calf and Heifer Association