Scours in calves are one of the most searched items on Google when it comes to calf care. A sick calf is a sad sight and bout of sours will scar the calf for life, limiting its potential as a healthy replacer in the herd. Ods are, you will probably be spending lots of money trying to make up for its poor start for years.

Most dairy farmers look to batch milk pasteurizer as the answer to calf scours and are surprised when pasteurizing calf milk doesn’t take care of it. Why? The simple answer is that most scours are caused by poor first feeding of colostrum.

The importance of colostrum has been mentioned a million times. General guidelines recommend feeding four quarts of colostrum within 2-4 hours. You might have heard that 5.5 g/dl when testing for Blood Serum Total Protein (BSTP) means that calves will stay healthy. Yet, following these guidelines will not be enough to protect the calf from getting sick, because calf immunity is not something you can just turn on and it runs.

Colostrum can prevent calf scours

Why poor colostrum feeding causes scours. Prevent scours with a colostrum management system.

No, the true secret to why poor feeding of colostrum causes scours is the dissipation rate of passive immunity. Take a close look at our graph. The passive immunity a calf receives from colostrum dissipates at roughly the same rate no matter if it received a lot or a little. Eventually, it runs out. The question is how soon.

Calves fed poor quality colostrum, the incorrect temperature of colostrum, or just fed plain too late will not receive enough passive immunity to protect them (red dashed line), immediately entering the red “high risk” zone and scouring within a few days after birth.

The “high risk” zone highlights the time when the calf’s passive immunity obtained from colostrum is no longer adequate, and the active immunity is not yet fully developed. You will see that in our calf scours chart we highlighted days 7 through 14 as the most common time when calves experience scours during this period. These scours are directly caused by poor colostrum feeding.

Strive for early feeding of colostrum

The yellow line represents a healthy calf. This is the perfect case scenario, where everything went well: 4 quarts of already pasteurized high-quality colostrum was fed within 30 minutes after birth at 105ºF. A calf fed in this manner will maintain its passive immunity at high enough levels to prevent the onset of scours.

As you can see, the better job you do of feeding your calves colostrum, the longer you keep scours away from your calves. Colostrum feeding is not about just one thing, it is about doing all the things right all the time:

  • feeding within 30 minutes of birth
  • feeding the highest quality of colostrum possible
  • feeding 4 quarts of colostrum on the first feeding and if possible on the second
  • feeding at 105ºF
  • preventing bacterial growth with pasteurization and proper storage

I hear you say, “But on a dairy, I don’t have time to manage all the variables of time and temperature?” Take a look at our colostrum management system. We’ll take care of all the pesky details for you and you’ll be able to sleep well at night.

Why do calves get scours? Prevent scours with better colostrum feeding.