During the calving rearing period, there is an increased risk of disease or sickness, with scour being the biggest risk to young calves.

Scour is the biggest killer of young calves on dairy farms, and the severity of cases can vary greatly – from nutrition scour, to scour caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Parasites that cause scour are cryptosporidia and coccidia; scour-causing viruses include rotavirus and coronavirus; and bacteria-causing scour are salmonella and Escherichia coli  (E. Coli).

With most farms now approximately four weeks into calving, the infection pressure within the shed is growing, and the risk of outbreak is increasing.


Any calf that displays any signs of scour needs to be isolated from the other calves in the shed to prevent spread.

Scour can spread quickly in a shed or pen, so it is important that if a calf has scour, they are isolated from others.

A good idea, is to take a sample from calves that are scouring to determine what is at fault.

This will mean that you can use a targeted disinfectant product after the rearing season is over to remove the bacteria from the shed.

Once the calf has been isolated, you need to keep them hydrated, as a calf with scour is losing fluid.

It is important that you continue to feed calves their milk, along with electrolytes.

Sick calves should be given three to four litres of electrolytes in separate feeds to their milk feeds.

Antibiotics will be helpful to some calves, and may not work at all for others. Antibiotics should be discussed with your vet before providing them to calves.

Calf health

Many farms will now have all their replacement animals born, but that does not mean that you should stop safe practice around colostrum.

You need to ensure that you continue to follow the ‘1,2,3’ rule for calves – remember, they are born with no immunity and only obtain immunity from antibodies in the colostrum.

The aim on many farms will be to sell surplus calves off farm at around three-weeks-of-age, and for this to be possible, calves need to be healthy. Sick calves can not and should not be sold off farm.

It is especially important that calves are fed colostrum if a vaccination for scour has been used on the farm, as this is the only way that antibodies will be passed to the calf.


Colostrum management is vital, but that will only get you so far and you need to ensure that the environment that your calves are living is also up to a high standard.

Firstly, you need to ensure that the stocking rate in pens in correct, calves need a minimum space floor space of 1.7m².

To make it simpler, a standard single bay of a shed measuring 4.8m X 5m (24m²) can house 14 calves.

Hygiene is also of the utmost importance when trying to prevent a scour outbreak.

The pens used for housing calves need to be cleaned out and disinfected regularly, bedding should not be allowed to become damp or dirty.

A clean, deep bed of straw should be kept under calves and cows at all times.

Equipment such as teat feeders, buckets, bottles and stomach tubes should also be cleaned and disinfected regularly.