For anyone that has dealt with a scouring calf problem, any possible means of prevention is worthwhile. Watching baby calves fade in front of your eyes and dealing with the multiple times a day chore of giving electrolytes is exhausting and demoralizing. Back porches and bathtubs become messy treatment wards and mad wives soon follow. Many calves may go on to need IV fluids administered to overcome the dehydration associated with scours. Death loss and the subsequent question of should a new calf be grafted on to the cow follow soon after.
From a veterinary perspective, scouring calves are challenging. They are labor-intensive, time-consuming, messy, and potentially infectious to people. Seven years ago, I had a three day hospital stay courtesy of a scouring calf...... and yes, I had very similar symptoms as the calf- NOT FUN!!!
For many producers, discussing scour vaccine will be redundant, and either be something they always do, or never do. Every year we are faced with questions from producers considering adding scour vaccinations to their program, so hopefully the following information will help make the decision about using scour vaccine an easier one to make.
The first and most important thing to consider about any vaccination program, is having realistic expectations, and that 100% efficacy or control is not an attainable goal. Scour vaccine is a tool to help reduce the likelihood of scours, but it will not fix poor management, or poor calving area conditions. Scour vaccine is not cheap, at $3.75 to $4.50 a dose, but neither is treating or losing baby calves, so many producers don’t bat an eye at the expense.
I like to think of scour vaccine as an insurance policy, hopefully they are unnecessary, but if disease exposure or weather conditions make calving areas muddy, they can be very valuable. In those situations, vaccination frequently reduces the incidence of scouring calves by 25-50%, or even more, compared to non-vaccinated cows.
Scour issues in calves are multifactorial, and can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Weather and cleanliness of the calving area are probably the two most important variables in the likelihood of having scour problems, with wet, muddy conditions being the worst case for preventing scours. Wet, cold calves are very susceptible to infection and a dirty udder provides the perfect route to become infected with any of the nasty bugs that may cause scours.
Cow nutrition, including mineral and vitamin status, plays a role in colostrum quality and is very important in reducing the incidence of scours. Cows that are especially thin or have poor mineral status, may not be able to build immunity to scour vaccine, making the vaccine a waste of money.
Another scenario where scour vaccine is valuable is if new bred cows or heifers are being added to the operation. New bred animals may not have immunity to all of the “bugs” at their new environment, so boosting their immunity and colostrum with vaccination is a good way of preventing their calves from having problems.
Additionally, scour vaccine is especially helpful to bred heifers. Bred heifers typically do not have the same quality of colostrum as older cows, so giving their colostrum a “boost” with scour vaccine can help calves on first-calf heifers stay healthier.
Hopefully these facts can help you make the decision on whether or not, scour vaccine is right for you. I personally believe that scour vaccines are beneficial and use them on my own cattle, which is my best endorsement for any product.
As always, feel free to contact us with any questions and we will do our best to answer them!