Scour outbreaks easily avoided

Too many UK cattle producers are suffering from costly and unnecessary scour outbreaks, according to latest disease results.

Findings from Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health’s ScourCheck scheme, which sampled 1300 calves in 2010, shows more than 32% of samples were positive for cryptosporidia. More than 29% had rotavirus, 17.7% coronavirus and 3.8% E coli, with many farms experiencing a mix of the various organisms implicated in disease outbreaks.

Vet Paddy Gordon, Shepton Vets, says inadequate colostrum management is a fundamental cause of scour problems in dairy herds.

“Good quality colostrum is the key. It’s important to recognise the difference in colostrum quality between cows and only use milk produced within the first six hours of birth.” A colostrum meter is a useful tool in assessing the quality of colostrum available.

However, Mr Gordon says more commonly, calves are not provided with enough colostrum, at the recommended rate of 10% of their body weight, as soon as possible after birth.

He has also witnessed an increase in the number of cases of cryptosporidia in the last five to 10 years, which he attributes to a change in management practices.

“As farms have got bigger, there has been a move away from individual calf pens to group housed system. Because cryptosporidia is related to faecal-oral transmission, for group housing systems to work, hygiene must be impeccable.”

Pens should be managed with an all-in, all-out policy, de-bulked of bedding and steam cleaned, with a sufficient rest period between batches.

And although all these diseases can be controlled through appropriate management, vaccination prior to calving may be appropriate in some cases, says SAC regional vet manager, George Caldow.

“Vaccination primes the colostrum with antibodies and also provides some degree of longer-term antibody protection in milk, which will be passed on to the calf.”

Cows can be vaccinated against rotovirus, E coli K99 and coronavirus, but there is no vaccine available for cryptosporidia.

Many producers vaccinate dairy cows at drying off, but forget heifers. This creates the opportunity for disease breakdown by increasing infection levels in the environment, warns Mr Gordon.

Scours prevention in beef herds is also crucial, says Mr Caldow. “An outbreak can be devastating, with any calf mortality eating into the profits.”

And according to Mr Caldow, scours can be more of a problem in spring calving suckler herds, compared to autumn calving systems.

“Spring calving sucklers generally calve inside, meaning calves are exposed to more infection early on,” he explains.

To prevent this problem, promoting clean cows and calves and producing a tight calving pattern is vital.

“Some beef producers have a 12-week (or more) age range in calf batches. This creates a lot of opportunity for infection to build up in the environment. By calving in a tighter window, calves can be managed in more even batches.”

Ideally, calves should also be provided with a creep lying area from day one. This allows them to lie away from the cows and keeps them cleaner.

Spring calving suckler herds hoping to save costs by cutting back on straw bedding this season, may also be creating more issues with scours, warns, vet Keith Cutler, Endell Vet Group.

“Housed cattle should be low stocked and bedded up regularly. When calving inside it may be worth cleaning out half way through calving and liming to reduce the challenge.”