New diagnostic data from MSD Animal Health suggests nearly a quarter of infectious calf scour cases are likely to have been caused by a mix of disease organisms widespread in the UK farming environment.

Last winter the company was able to monitor scour pathogen incidence on a number of UK calf rearing units.

“Between October 2020 and March 2021, we were able to examine different scour pathogen incidence thanks to our own disease surveillance scheme based on faecal sample test kits,” explained MSD Animal Health livestock veterinary adviser Dr. Kat Baxter-Smith

She added that these ScourCheck kits are convenient, easy-to-use and accurate on farm – and will pick up the presence of rotavirus, coronavirus, E. coli or cryptosporidium infections.

Their use helps farmers and their vets to discuss appropriate scour disease management approaches, depending on the mix of infectious organisms identified.

Other pathogens, such as Salmonella spp and coccidia, should be identified by full lab analysis.

61% positivity rate

“During this six-month period, we gathered data from 112 farms and 61% of faecal samples taken from these calf-rearing units returned a positive result – with 23% of these positive tests having mixed infections.”

Dr. Baxter-Smith stressed that, unfortunately, treatment for infectious calf scours can be challenging and time consuming, so the key to better disease control lies in prevention of this troublesome young animal health issue.

We know that scour continues to be a significant disease problem in young calves, particularly over the winter months. Indeed, scour is the main cause of death in animals under two months of age.

"The husbandry aim therefore, simply has to be trying to stop the disease occurring in the first place,” she said.

“Practically, this means making sure your cow colostrum is as good as it can be, in addition to ensuring good environmental hygiene and management.

"Indeed, a good first step in terms of making your calf-rearing enterprise more resilient to infectious scour problems is to give your dry cows a vaccine to boost dam colostrum quality pre-calving – and then feeding enough of this fortified feed to your newborn calves.”