What you need to know about calf diarrhoea

Trouw Nutrition
30 August 2021

Neonatal diarrhoea (scours) forms a major threat in the first weeks of the life of a calf. More than half of all calf deaths are related to neonatal diarrhea. A good prevention program can significantly reduce the impact of calf diarrhoea. A bit of background information will help you understand what can be done.

Causes of diarrhoea in calves: infections and incorrect feeding

Neonatal diarrhoea can be caused by infection, by incorrect feeding practices or by a combination of the two.

Infectious organisms that can cause diarrhoea in calves are bacteria (like E. coli, salmonella and clostridium), viruses (rotavirus, coronavirus) or parasites (cryptosporidium, coccidia).

Incorrect feeding practices include using poor quality calf milk replacers, feeding at an incorrect feeding temperature or at irregular times and incorrect placement of the feeding bucket. Incorrect feeding makes the calf more vulnerable to infectious organisms, but it can also cause diarrhoea by itself.

Dehydration from diarrhoea can result in death

Calves suffering from scours can lose huge volumes of water via the faeces, resulting in severe dehydration and a disturbance of the acid-base balance (acidosis). It is the dehydration that kills the calf, not the infectious organism itself.  Dehydration is expressed as the percentage of body weight lost in the form of water. With higher degrees of dehydration, the visible symptoms become more severe.

Learn to recognise the signs of diarrhoea and dehydration

Because dehydration can kill so quickly, it is important to recognise diarrhoea and the signs of dehydration as early as possible. Therefore, check your calves twice daily, and immediately offer them a product containing electrolytes, such as Farm-O-San Rediar, when you see signs of diarrhoea and/or dehydration. Early administration of Farm-O-San Rediar will increase the chances that your calf will benefit from it rapidly. Read the article at the bottom.

With care, you can prevent diarrhea

Diarrhoea should be prevented by a combination of measures that increase resistance and immunity of the calf and by reducing the infection pressure.

Protocol for colostrum feeding

  1. Provide the calf with sufficient colostrum immediately after birth
  2. Ensure colostrum is of good quality
  3. Feed colostrum correctly
  4. Avoid feeding colostrum from cows with risk of low quality colostrum
  5. Alternative solutions if the dam cannot provide enough colostrum of good quality

Avoid losing the calf when diarrhoea occurs 

Most causes of neonatal calf diarrhoea are self-limiting: the animal will clear the infection without any treatment, unless the dehydration and acidosis resulting from the diarrhoea kill the calf before it recovers from the infection. But even when the calf recovers, the negative energy balance resulting from the temporary drop in milk intake is a problem. For this reason, calves with diarrhoea should be offered a product that stabilizes the water and electrolyte balance and restores their energy balance.

Farm-O-San Rediar gel protection: Fast action in case of diarrhoea

Farm-O-San Rediar is a dietetic feed for calves. It contains electrolytes, sugars and buffers to stabilize the water and electrolyte balance, and to provide energy to calves in case of diarrhoea. Rediar also contains a probiotic that supports the bacterial balance in the intestines and a substance that forms a gel in the intestine of the calf. This helps to protect the gut wall and rapidly improves the consistency of the stools. Farm-O-San Rediar gel protection is your powerful ally when fast action is required.  Rediar is a dietetic complementary feed for calves up to an age of 6 months providing stabilisation of water and electrolyte balance to support the physiological digestion in cases of digestive disorders (diarrhoea).

Click here to see more information about Farn-O-San Rediar or the view the other Farm-O-San products.

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