scours in baby calves

Asked April 14, 2018, 7:42 AM EDT

I buy baby calves at the stockyards and feed them milk replacer 3 times a day for 10 weeks. I am having a problem with scours. The vet says they have nothing that will help me. An old farmer told me to make a tea out of blackberry root. It does help. My problem is I will need this in January when the ground is froze. How would you preserve these roots? Freezing them, drying them, or making the tea and then canning it with a few roots in the jar? If you have any suggestions for scours I would love to hear them.

Somerset County Pennsylvania

1 Response

Hi -- first, it's important for you to realize you are buying animals at high risk of disease. They are young, highly stressed, and exposed to many disease agents at stockyards. Plus, you don't know anything about the care they have received so far, such as navel disinfection, colostrum, vitamin injections, etc. It is not uncommon for people who buy such animals to lose over 50% of them to scours or pneumonia. I would actually expect and be prepared for most of these baby calves you buy to get diarrhea at some point. If you want to continue raising calves, a lower-risk approach would be to buy them directly from their farm of origin.

Kudos to you for consulting a veterinarian for help, but now you need to find another one who knows about large animals. There are PLENTY of commercial products for treatment of scouring calves. Many are available over the counter at feed stores or through veterinarians. Look for electrolyte powders indicated for the treatment of scours in calves and closely follow the reconstitution directions. Do NOT use antibiotics. Offer the electrolytes like you do the milk replacer (I assume in bottles) between milk feedings, about 2 hours after and before a milk meal so the milk meal isn't diluted. If the calf won't suckle, you will either need to tube feed the electrolytes or have a veterinarian give IV fluids. Ask your new veterinarian about giving vitamin E/selenium injections or other vitamin/mineral support for these calves.

You can decrease the likelihood of scours by feeding calves high-quality milk replacer (milk-based protein and at least 20% fat and 20% protein and even higher is better) at a rate of 20% of their body weight daily divided into 2 or 3 meals. You can reduce the chance of chilling by using calf jackets and deep bedding (chilling is a stressor predisposing calves to other problems like scours). Keep their facilities immaculately clean. Isolate any calves with diarrhea, feed them last, and thoroughly disinfect that pen after the calf leaves. Also thoroughly clean and disinfect all feeding equipment after each feeding.

Also, do not purchase calves with wet navels, droopy ears, dull eyes, depression, rough coat, coughing, or evidence of scours already-- these are unlikely to do well.

The reason the root tea seemed to work for you was actually the water content of the concoction. Scouring dehydrates calves so increased water intake is essential. Electrolyte mixes will also replace the salts lost through diarrhea, which makes them a better treatment than the root tea.

Best wishes with your calf raising!