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Calf Scours

When it comes to cattle health, and especially health of your young calves watching their poop is important.

Scours is calf diarrhea that is yellow and has a watery consistency, and increased frequency. The excess water that is found in the feces causes dehydration, and often times an electrolyte imbalance in the calf. A calf that is on a liquid diet is not expected to have solid stools, and it is normal for a calf to have loose stools, but a watery stool is abnormal. Normal calf stool should stay on top of bedding. Scours has a watery consistency and will go right through bedding. When a calf is not in a pen, and in the pasture you should really look at the backside of the calf. If you notice a really wet backside then its very possible the calf may have scours.

Causes of Scours

Scours can be caused by many different things from infectious to non-infectious causes.

Infectious causes include: Rotovirus, E. coli, coronavirus or cryptosporidium. Non-infectious causes include: Lack of passive immunity from inadequate colostrum intake, mastitis in dam, low milk production from dam, cold and heat stress on the calf.

I'm not going to focus on the causes because honestly the most important thing when it comes to scours is treating the dehydration. Most causes of scours are viral and antibiotics won't help. In this case the best thing for a scouring calf is to give it fluid and nutritional support.

***A calf that is wobbly or unable to stand is severely dehydrated and needs immediate veterinarian attention and IV fluid replacement therapy.***

How to Determine if your Calf has Scours

The consitency of your calfs poop is key. Is it watery? Does it go straight through bedding? If on pasture, do you notice the backside of the calf being very dirty and wet, if so stay and observe until you see its poop. What does the calf look like? A healthy calf will be alert, bright eyed and have upright ears. A sick calf will be lethargic, have drooping ears, dull or sunken eyes, dry mouth and nostrils. A calf's suckle reflex may be weak with more of a chewing motion. A cold stressed scouring calf may have a below normal temperature related to low blood sugar and acidosis. If you notice a calf that doesn't get up when all the other calves are standing or a calf that doesn't come up to eat then there may be a problem.


Correcting the fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance is key! In order to properly treat your calves you must know how severe their fluid loss has become. I utilize this chart below often in order to correct fluid imbalances correctly. Keep in mind this is in addition to, not in replace of normal milk feedings! Also, adding an electrolyte to a milk feeding may help correct acidosis and electrolyte imbalance, but it will not help replace fluid that has been lost.

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IV Therapy

Severe dehydration needs to be corrected with IV therapy. If a calf is wobbly, uncoordinated, unable to stand with severe weakness then, immediate veterinarian attention is needed. A calf in this condition must have IV fluid resuscitation.


There are several different types of electrolytes and we try to keep a variety on hand. If a calf is still nursing then we use an electrolyte that can be given with milk or to a nursing calf.

You also, do not want to skip a milk feeding, Calves need the energy and nutrients that the milk provide, so let them nurse and give electrolytes that can be given with milk between feedings. This is important that you know the difference. An electrolyte that is not compatible with milk can cause a change in digestion by altering the casein clot in the abomasum.

If a calf is receiving a bottle then the electrolyte you are using does not necessarily have to be compatible with milk, but you do need to wait a few hours between feeding to a milk bottle and giving electrolytes. We use the TheraCaf below when a bottle baby no longer has a suck reflex. We use this specifically because it is high in protein.

If a calf loses its suck reflex it's more than likely has a fever or dehydrated or both. Check for a fever by using a rectal thermometer. A normal temp for a calf should be 100-102.5 degrees F. When we have a calf that has a fever we like to use transdermal Banamine. We dose it exactly as labeled and we only give every 72 hours because it can cause kidney issues if given too often.

Esophageal Tube

If your calf is not sucking you will need to use an esophageal tube to correct the fluid and electrolyte deficit. We never tube milk after 4 days of age. We try to tube colostrum only. Tubing milk or milk replacer can cause clostridium infections, and bloat. In order to provide protein while the calf is getting electrolytes we add a raw egg or use electrolytes that have protein included. A calf needs nutrients so we have found aggressive rehydration gets the calf back to nursing quicker. We give electrolytes every 4 hours sometimes around the clock depending on severity.

Using an esophageal tube feeder is intimidating, no one wants to drown their calf. Watch a YouTube video to help with the procedure. I always make sure the tube is on the left side of the mouth and I allow the calf to swallow it as I insert it. I use my left hand at the side of their neck to feel the bulb as it passes. If you can't feel the bulb start over.

  • Pro Tips: Never mix electrolytes stronger than package recommends. Too concentrated electrolytes will cause more problems.

  • Do NOT skip milk feedings

  • Make sure you have the right electrolyte, and make sure to separate milk feeding and electrolyte replacement by a few hours. If they are still nursing give an electrolyte replacement compatible with milk.

  • Providing an anti-inflammatory can help with fever and pain associated with scours. Use exactly how it is labeled.

  • Prevention is key but even the best practices can still have cases of scours. Make sure your dam has a healthy udder and is providing adequate nutrition, make calves receive the adequate amount of colostrum on time. Keep a good vaccination schedule, and make sure you are adequately cleaning and sanitizing.

  • A scouring calf has to have electrolyte replacement of the fluids they lost in ADDITION to their normal feedings. If unable to stand or wobbly they need immediate vet attention and IV therapy.

***This content is based off of years of experience caring for our cattle. Always defer to your vet for any medical advice. This is what we do and this is in no way a replacement for your vet. We are not giving medical advice only sharing our experience and best practices that have worked for us***

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