Don’t let scours knock growth rates

18 December 2015

Maximising growth rates in pre- and immediate post-weaning calves is crucial if beef cattle are to grow well and finish efficiently.

Roxanne Winstanley, Farm-O-San National Account Manager with Trouw Nutrition GB says that in addition to feeding an appropriate diet based on sufficient quantities of high quality milk replacers to encourage high growth rates, it is vital to reduce the impact of problems such as scours which will knock growth.

“Calf scours remain a widespread problem on beef farms, especially when calves are purchased in,” Roxanne comments. “It is not unusual for the incidence rate to be 10-30% of calves being affected with scours in the pre-weaning period. The average cost of treatment is around £40 per calf and mortality rates remain high.

“The cost of treating a case is the tip of the iceberg. The scour pathogens damage the villi in the gut, reducing the calf’s ability to absorb nutrients. Consequently, they will never be able to grow as fast as a healthy animal.”

She says scouring calves can lose up to five litres of fluid each day, a combination of water and the mineral salts essential for normal body function. With scours, it is the dehydration that kills the calf. The loss of electrolytes reduces the ability of body tissues to retain water, thus aggravating the dehydration.

“The top priority in scouring calves is to provide them with sufficient liquid and electrolytes to replace those lost in the faeces and to stem the flow of fluid loss. The next priority is to supply additional sources of readily digestible energy. Any supplement should include electrolytes, energy and also ingredients that have a positive effect on slowing the rate of gut transit. The quicker rehydration is carried out, the shorter the duration of the scouring incident.

Reducing the impact of scours is a priority for Martin Shropshire who runs a beef enterprise at Marchamley, near Hodnet. Formerly dairy farmers, Martin and his brother Andrew moved into beef three years ago.

Their system involves buying Hereford or British Blue dairy cross calves from Market Drayton market and rearing to finish at around 16 months old at 600kg. 

A mix of heifer and bull calves is purchased at around 30 days old and are fed milk powder until weaning at around 8-12 weeks depending on size. After weaning they will be reared on barley and beef concentrates.

“We buy 4-5 calves per week depending on price and availability,” Martin explains.  “Ideally we like to buy from the same dealer but inevitability calves will come from a variety of sources. We finish in groups of 15 but prefer to buy a few a week and merge batches to give groups of 15 after weaning.

“We assume calves will have had sufficient colostrum and been well-reared but we know they will face a challenge from bacteria when they move onto the farm and are mixed with cattle from other farms.”

To try and reduce bug challenge, all pens are sprayed with disinfectant between batches of calves and bedded down with fresh straw. Calves will also be drenched for coccidiosis.

“Scours are a regular problem and can affect up to 30% of calves. There is no doubt that calves that have scours will take longer to finish so we try to reduce the impact.”

Any scouring calves are fed Farm-O-San Rediar, a dietetic feed which is supplied to Martin by BCW Agriculture. It is formulated to stabilise water and electrolyte balance in scouring calves. It contains natural pectin, which in the intestine forms a gel which slows the rate of gut passage while a probiotic helps maintain the bacterial balance in the intestine.

“We really like the way it helps to slow the gut down and it is quick and easy to use.  We mix it in with the milk powder to make sure the calf is still getting the energy it needs. We feed it for a week and find this approach helps us reduce any early growth check.”

Roxanne Winstanley concludes: “Prompt action can help reduce the impact of scours and increase the prospects of beef animals finishing sooner.”

For further information, contact the Trouw Nutrition GB Farm-O-San Team.