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Myth busting nutritional scours: To treat or not to treat

Tom Earleywine for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 May 2016
solving scours

Although the term “nutritional scours” is often thrown around in today’s dairy industry, what many calf raisers might diagnose as nutritional scours is likely the result of common misperceptions surrounding nutrition inputs and manure outputs. Below are six common scours myths:

Myth #1: Nutritional scours is a common problem in calves

The concept of nutritional scours was established more than 30 years ago. Now, with advancements in research-proven, higher quality milk replacers, often what calf raisers see as nutritional scours is an increase in manure from calves being fed to a full plane of nutrition – meaning more groceries are going in, so more manure is going out. Today, cases of true nutritional scours are rare.

Myth #2: Liquid manure means scours

When it comes to young calves on a fluid milk diet, loose manure is a common occurrence. For comparison’s sake, an infant on a liquid diet produces loose stools. More liquid manure is typical on a fluid milk diet, and an increase in loose manure can occur as the amount of liquid nutrition increases.

A diagnosis of scours when observing loose manure from a perky, healthy calf showing no signs of dehydration could be inaccurate. Before assuming that it’s scours, consider that it could be a regular part of the calf pre-weaning stage and the level of nutrition.

Myth #3: Electrolytes aren’t worth the price to help with scours

If you believe the calf has scours, consider feeding electrolytes between feedings. Calf raisers may be reluctant to feed electrolytes due to cost or time restrictions. However, if mixed properly and provided in between feedings – not as a substitute for milk replacer – electrolytes can be a tool to keep the calf properly hydrated. Do not mix electrolytes with milk or milk replacer since the water mixed with the electrolytes is as important as the electrolytes themselves.

Myth #4: Color can determine the type of scours

The association of color with the type of scours can be misleading. Different organisms in the digestive tract will result in various colors of manure. Some organisms will result in the same colored manure as others. For example, whitish colored manure could potentially be from increased nutrition, rotavirus or coronavirus. Making a diagnosis by color alone is inaccurate.

Myth #5: Calf age can determine the type of scours

A calf’s age has also inaccurately been another way to determine the type of scours. If a calf is indeed scouring and not just having regular liquid manure from a high-nutrition diet, the cause could be anything. The best way to determine the type of scours is to complete a fecal culture.

Myth #6: Feed calves less when they are sick

Historically when a calf was sick and scouring, the thought process was to feed it less. This is another misconception, as calves will need to maintain nutrients to fight a disease if there is one present. If calves don’t get enough nutrients, their ability to fight diseases can be compromised.

Consider increasing feeding frequency to increase calf observation and disease monitoring. If you observe loose stools with clear signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, calf raisers can catch an outbreak sooner rather than later when the feeding frequency is increased. Additional symptoms might include droopy ears, dull eyes, runny or dry nose, or cough.

Scours can tell many different stories, and calf raisers should question and then determine if the loose manure is merely a part of a healthy diet or if a pathogen is causing it.  PD

For more information, contact Tom Earleywine, Ph.D., director of nutritional services with Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products, at (800) 618-6455 or through email, or go to the Land O’Lakes website.

Tom Earleywine has a Ph.D. in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is director of nutritional services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Co.

PHOTO: Staff photo.

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