Calves in pen

Well, spring calving is on the horizon and I can smell the calf scours from here and I am sure some of you can too! I am sure we can all agree that we would all rather avoid it where possible. The bugs that cause scours are incredibly common in even the best of calf sheds. One study done in 2015 found that 70% of farms had at least one calf that was rotavirus positive under culture even though no signs of scours were present. 23% of farms had at least one calf that was Crypto and rotavirus positive even though no signs of scours were present.

There are many reasons why a farm operation can develop an outbreak of scours but most of the scours we end up dealing with are often at the end of the season when staff are tired, gold standard colostrum management has slipped, the pens have seen their fair share of bugs and animals.

The single most important way to manage and prevent scours is with gold-standard colostrum management. Often people talk about the three Q’s for giving a calf colostrum, Quickly, Quantity and Quality.

  • Quickly meaning that colostrum should be given within 12 hours of birth for antibodies to cross the gut into the bloodstream.
  • Quantity being a calf should be fed a minimum of 10% body weight but ideally 15% of body weight, therefore for a 40kg calf that is 6L which can be given over 2 feeds in a 12hr time frame.
  • Quality is during this 12hr period these newborn calves should be fed gold colostrum from the first milking as antibody levels decrease after each milking. A lot of our farmers now use a Brix Refractometer which measures the protein level in the milk which can help identify if your colostrum is good enough to be given to newborn calves and many often tell me they are surprised at the cows that meet the level of >22 and the ones that don't (If you are interested in using a Brix please have a chat to the staff at your local clinic).

Many people have also found that they struggle to get enough colostrum to meet this requirement and there are a few things you can do here. You can top your colostrum up with colostrum powder particularly if you are having issues with the volume. If you are struggling with colostrum levels near the end of the season there are options for storing excess colostrum from earlier in the season however I am not going to dabble in this topic because it's a whole separate article.

Bovillus Rotavec Corona Vaccination

Another method of increasing the quality of your colostrum if you are struggling with this throughout the season is considering vaccinating your herd for calf scour pathogens so the antibodies can be passed on through colostrum to the calf. The  Bovilis Rotavec Corona vaccine is one shot to all cows and heifers annually 3 weeks prior to calving. It covers Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli (K99). This vaccine will not only improve your gold colostrum and aid in helping calves fight scours caused by these pathogens but also reduce the number of bugs being excreted into the environment for the next group of calves. However, it is important to note that this product is not a silver bullet but an additive to already good colostrum management. If you are interested in this product or want to talk further around colostrum management please do not hesitate to contact your vet. Below is a summarized table of good colostrum management otherwise good luck and we will see you out there!

Dr Amber Rowan-Sanders - Farm Vet at Taupiri

Colostrum Management


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