LINCOLN, Neb. -- When it comes to calving time, producers' main defense in the fight against scours is breaking this pathogen cycle from one calf to the next, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln dairy/beef veterinarian said.

Producers should keep pregnant cows in clean, dry locations with little exposure to the pathogens from previously born calves, said Dave Smith, UNL dairy/beef veterinarian. To provide these conditions for cows and their calves throughout the calving season, Smith recommends the Sandhills Calving System.

"The idea is to recreate those ideal conditions by providing a clean place for cows to calve where no older calves are increasing the numbers of pathogens. Pregnant cows should be moved to new pasture regularly, almost like starting a new calving season once a week," he said.

The first one to three weeks of a calf's life are most critical because young calves are more likely to contract and die from scours, Smith said. Calves born late in the season also are more likely to get sick because they are more heavily exposed to harmful pathogens from older calves.

"We can't eliminate the pathogens, but we can eliminate the doses calves are exposed to," Smith said.

A misconception among producers is that scours result from calves receiving too much milk. However, milk scours are much less of a problem than scours caused by germs, he said.

Antibiotics are often used to treat scours, but it is easier and less time consuming to work toward prevention instead, Smith said. Otherwise producers find themselves spending a lot of time catching calves to administer antibiotics, which may not be effective.

"We don't recommend calves getting antibiotics routinely. It's much better for calves to get adequate fluids throughout the day for several days," Smith said. "Another important practice to prevent the spread of scours is sanitation of equipment. Using the same equipment can easily carry pathogens from one calf to the next, so producers need to see that it's disinfected and held in a sanitization solution between calves."

The effectiveness of different prevention methods is variable by operation. Therefore, it is best to work with a veterinarian to determine the best prevention practices on an individual basis, he said.

SOURCE: University of Nebraska news release.