We are entering the thick of the calving season on dairy farms across the country, and as the number of calves on farms begins to grow, so does the risk of a scour outbreak.

Scour is the leading cause of death in calves under three months-of-age.

An outbreak of scour can not only be a stressful period of time on farms, it can also add to the workload at an already extremely busy time of the year. Not to forget the impact it can have on the calf, or calf’s health.


Calves are born with no immunity, so colostrum is needed to provide the calf with vital antibodies needed to protect themselves against infection.

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Farmers should follow the 1-2-3 rule when feeding colostrum. The first feed is within two hours of birth with at least 3L of colostrum. As the season progresses, this rule must remain to the forefront of farmers’ minds.


Hygiene is of the utmost importance when trying to prevent a scour outbreak. The calf pens should be cleaned out and disinfected regularly. The calving area should also be cleaned out and disinfected when possible.

A bed shouldn’t be allowed to become damp or dirty. A clean, deep bed of straw should be kept under calves and cows at all times.

The same goes for feeding equipment. Teat feeders, buckets, bottles and stomach tubes must be kept cleaned – and disinfected regularly.

Shed space

An aspect of the calving season that may be overlooked on many farms is ensuring that you have enough calf space and accommodation to meet peak demand.

Calves need a minimum space of 1.7m² each. Over-stocking pens will lead to an increased risk of scour or a disease outbreak.

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Identification and isolation

It is important that a poorly calf  is detected as early as possible – to avoid disease escalation, infection of other calves or in the worst case death.

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Once a calf is identified as having scour, the calf or calves must be isolated to help avoid it spreading to other calves. It is advisable to then take a dung sample to identify the cause of the scour.

If there is a scour outbreak, the following is advised:

  • Remove the sick calf or calves;
  • Re-hydrate – give calves electrolytes in milk or water;
  • Continue to feed milk / milk replacer – although a sick calf might have a reduced appetite, it is important that they are fed their daily feed as normal.