By Calf Health Specialist Andre Teixeira, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Affairs Director, Jaguar Health
Part 2 in a 3-part series on diarrhea and dehydration in dairy & beef calves
Calf diarrhea is multifactorial in nature, making this disease challenging to prevent. However, the extra labor and expenses required to deal with diarrhea can be avoided through good management practices. Over the long run, prevention of diarrhea before an outbreak is always more cost-efficient than treating sick calves after an outbreak occurs.
At the herd level, important preventive practices include:
- Maintaining cleanliness of equipment and facilities
- Good personnel hygiene
- Proper training of personnel
Although numerous pathogens are involved in calf diarrhea, infection and transmission occur through a fecal-oral route. Biosecurity measures, such as the use of gloves when handling and treating affected calves, and the use of disinfectant footbaths on entering and leaving stalls, can help curtail the spread of infectious agents in outbreak situations, and, of course, any sick calves should be isolated from others.
When calves are experiencing diarrhea, it’s obvious, but slow-nursing calves without diarrhea are often on the verge of scouring. Attention to slow-nursing calves can prevent, or at least reduce, the severity of diarrhea should it appear.
Environmental stress stemming from low temperatures, rain, snow, wind, and high humidity are factors that have been shown to increase the susceptibility of newborn calves to diarrhea.
Neonatal calves lack the ability to effectively regulate their body temperature when exposed to excessively hot or cold weather. Such conditions can lead to hyperthermia or hypothermia, which cause immune system impairment. Special care should be taken to reduce environmental risk factors during calving season, including the provision of dry shelters that are draft-free.
It may also be desirable to adjust the timing of calving season—to a period when environmental conditions are more favorable—by conducting controlled breeding.
Calves are typically exposed to contaminated environments directly after birth. To reduce opportunities for contamination, it’s critical to maintain a clean calving area, and important to limit overcrowding and the presence of infected animals in calving pens.
To avoid or limit exposure to pathogens, calves must be relocated from the calving pen immediately after birth to a sanitized, dry, individual pen that offers adequate fresh air circulation and enough separation from other calves to prevent contact with contaminated feces and urine.
Additionally, all milking bottles, water buckets and other feeding equipment should be cleaned frequently.
A calf’s natural resistance to diarrheal diseases is closely related to the timely consumption of high-quality colostrum, because colostrum contains antibodies and immune cells that are transferred to the calf. “Optimally, newborn calves should receive 4 liters of good quality colostrum within the first 6 hours after birth.”