During calving season, cow-calf producers often encounter outbreaks of calf diarrhea, a condition that can rapidly lead to dehydration and, in severe cases, even death. These outbreaks are commonly observed in calves aged 1 to 3 weeks. While supportive care can help most calves recover if administered promptly, they remain vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections, and the risk of mortality can be significant.
The recent cold and wet weather experienced by many regions has further exacerbated the issue. The concentration of cattle in feeding and shelter areas, coupled with muddy conditions, increases the likelihood of scours. Once a calf scours outbreak begins, it becomes challenging to control within the current calving area due to pathogen contamination overpowering any protective immunity the calves may have. To effectively manage calf diarrhea problems, implementing a Sandhills Calving System is highly recommended. However, it may not be feasible for most Midwestern operations due to limited land resources.
An alternative approach is to employ a modified Sandhills system, which can help mitigate calf scours outbreaks. In the traditional Sandhills system, producers move to a new calving pasture every 7 to 10 days, necessitating around eight different calving pastures for a 60-day calving season. In the modified system, it is advisable to shift to a new calving area every 20 to 30 days. While this may not completely eliminate the impact of a scours outbreak, it can make it more manageable by interrupting the standard 10-day incubation period.
Furthermore, it is important to note that calving does not have to occur solely on pasture. A modified calving system suitable for the Midwest region involves initiating calving in a barn during early March when adverse weather conditions persist. After approximately 20 days, transition to an outdoor lot, and complete the calving process on pasture in April. Regardless of the system chosen, effective calving management practices, including ensuring calves receive colostrum, maintaining hygiene, and promptly treating any cases of scours, are vital to weathering an outbreak successfully.
While calf diarrhea outbreaks pose significant challenges for cow-calf producers, implementing appropriate strategies can help minimize their impact. By adopting modified calving systems, such as extending the time spent in each calving area and adjusting the calving environment based on weather conditions, producers can enhance their ability to manage scours outbreaks. Additionally, maintaining proper calving management protocols is crucial for supporting calf health and reducing the severity of diarrhea cases. With careful attention to these measures, producers can navigate calving season with improved outcomes and mitigate the risks associated with calf diarrhea outbreaks.