How to manage calf health. Most of the common health problems experienced by calves are due to poor management.

Diligent feeding management and housing is therefore essential to ensure calf health is maintained.

Some of the common problems associated with management practices are diarrhoea and pneumonia.

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How to manage calf health – Common Diseases

Scours (diarrhoea)

Scours could be caused by nutritional disorders, viruses or bacteria. Digestive upsets leading to scours are a major cause of death in young calves.

The problem can however be minimised through:

i) Ensuring calves receive adequate colostrum within 6 hours of birth and therefore acquire some natural immunity.
ii) Feeding the correct amount of milk.
iii) Early recognition, isolation and treatment of scouring calves
iv) Maintenance of hygiene and cleanliness of feeding utensils and the environment
v) Not rearing calves continually in pens, dirt yards or small paddocks that become heavily contaminated. Paddock rotation will help prevent disease.
vi) Separation of sick animals to avoid cross infection.

Close observation of calves at feeding to identify scouring animals as soon as possible for remedial treatment will prevent dehydration and secondary disease leading to chronic ill-thrift and mortality.

• Most scour incidents can be treated simply by:
• Feeding water with salts.
• Avoiding milk for 1-2 feeds. Give fresh water, concentrates, and forage.

Antibiotics should not be used to treat scours resulting from overfeeding or digestive upsets.

Blood scours (mostly caused by coccidia) require veterinary treatment and management changes to improve hygiene.


One cause of pneumonia in young calves is fluids going to the lungs via the windpipe (trachea).

The first feeding of colostrum can cause problems if the feeding rate is faster than the swallowing rate.

If colostrum is bottle-fed it is important to use a nipple that matches the calf’s ability to swallow.

Greedy calves swallow large quantities of milk from the bucket, some of which may end up in the windpipe leading to pneumonia.

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