A Comprehensive Approach to Calf Scour Management for Farmers

A Comprehensive Approach to Calf Scour Management for Farmers

Did you know that calf mortality rates in the first three months of life are estimated to be around 6% for dairy calves and just under 3% for non-dairy calves1? Suboptimal environmental conditions contribute to a total cost of £11.6 million per annum to the UK cattle industry. The latest RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture) Targets Task Force report aims to reduce calf mortality rates by 1% per year, improving the sustainability of the sector and reducing losses. One of the main causes of calf mortality in neonatal calves is scour or diarrhoea.

Most farmers will be familiar with the nightmare of calf scour. Calves with diarrhoea, sometimes with blood and mucus, sunken eyes, and tenting skin indicating significant dehydration, is a common and frustrating problem. Dealing with cases of scour is not only time-consuming for the farm team, but negatively impacts calf health and welfare, and affects team morale.

Calf scour also takes a toll on farm finances, with costs related to investigations, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as decreased calf growth rates, increased age at first calving, and reduced production in the first lactation12. Scour-affected calves are more susceptible to other diseases like respiratory infections, delayed growth and development, and are more likely to be culled from the herd early.

Scour outbreaks can be caused by nutritional disturbances or infectious agents such as rotavirus, coronavirus, E. coli, Salmonella, or Cryptosporidia. Risk factors include hygiene issues in the calving yard and calf housing, alongside poor immunity, and nutrition. With more farmers housing higher numbers of calves due to factors like keeping bull calves or being under TB restrictions - understanding the impact of overstocking and ways to reduce it is crucial.

Developing a standard operating procedure (SOP) or protocol with input from your vet and sharing it with all team members can help spot early signs and provide valuable guidance on actions to take.

Treatment will include:

Rehydration therapy - oral or intravenous fluids with electrolytes aim to reduce the impact of  dehydration and electrolyte imbalances caused by diarrhoea. Alternating milk feeds with water containing electrolyte rehydration therapy ensures calves also receive the energy that is vital to repair the gut. Rehydration therapy may include the use of Diakur® Plus a nutritional supplement for calves and a source of energy and electrolytes.

Antimicrobials - not used routinely for calf scour, but may be prescribed by your vet for calves with diarrhoea that show systemic signs of illness, such as fever or septicaemia.

NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as Metacam® - will help to decrease gut pain and inflammation and reduce fever. This helps to reduce the impact on feeding, and the knock on effects on dehydration, energy intake and growth.

Preventative Steps

Prevention is always preferable to cure; while this applies to many aspects of farming, calf health management is an obvious area.

Key preventative measures:

  • Hygiene and biosecurity - regular, thorough cleaning with removal of organic matter and use of appropriate detergents and disinfectants. Keep the milk prep area and feeding equipment as clean as your own kitchen
  • Colostrum management – boost its quality with good dry cow management and optimal transition. The aim is to get 10% of bodyweight of good quality, clean colostrum delivered to the calf within six hours of birth, ideally with the first feed being given within two hours.
  • Vaccination – administering a vaccine to the dam in the dry period boosts colostral antibodies. Fencovis® is an inactivated rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli K99 calf scour vaccine available in the UK and is the first which is licensed to prevent scour caused by rotavirus and E. coli K99. The vaccine is only available from vets (POM-V) and is distinct from others on the market as it comes with an oil-free adjuvant and  is available in single doses as well as 5 and 25 dose packs.  Calves are born without circulating antibodies, so they are entirely reliant on antibody rich colostrum to transfer immunity against infections in the first hours, days and weeks of life.

Adhering to high standards of hygiene and being well-versed in what to look out for and when to take action is essential for everyone looking after calves. With a robust preventative strategy in place, you can reduce the risk to the calf and give them the best possible start.

The Five Cs of Calf Rearing

  1. Colostrum – ensuring the calf has enough quality colostrum within the first six hours of life
  2. Calories – monitor feeding amounts and offer good quality straw and concentrates to help rumen development
  3. Cleanliness – if you wouldn’t eat/drink from it, don’t expect calves to!
  4. Comfort – minimize draughts, fluctuations in temperature, and check bedding is dry by kneeling down – if the bedding is wet enough to make your knee wet, it will make the calf wet and cold
  5. Consistency – consistency in everything from groupings to feeding rates and from feeding times to additional cake/forage


  1. Hyde et al., Quantitative analysis of calf mortality in Great Britain. J Dairy Sci. 2020 Mar;103(3):2615-2623. 
  2. Johnson et al. 2017 Prospective cohort study to assess rates of contagious disease in pre-weaned UK dairy heifers. Veterinary Record Open 2017;4:e000226. 

Fencovis® suspension for injection contains inactivated E. coli expressing F5 (K99) adhesin, strain O8:K3; inactivated bovine rotavirus, serotype G6P1, strain TM-91; inactivated bovine coronavirus, strain C-197. Diakur® Plus contains glucose, dried citrus pulp, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, inactivated yeast and potassium chloride Metacam® 20 mg/ml solution for injection for cattle, pigs and horses contain meloxicam. UK: POM-V. Advice should be sought from the prescriber. Further information available in the SPC or from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd, RG12 8YS, UK. Tel: 01344 746957. Email: vetenquiries@boehringeringelheim.com. Fencovis® , Diakur® Plus and Metacam® are registered trademarks of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica GmbH, used under licence. ©2023 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd. All rights reserved. Date of preparation: November 2023. BOV-0127-2023. Use Medicines Responsibly.

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1st December 2023

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