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Scouring calves and the magic formula

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattleman Published on 28 March 2017
beef calf

Today, the day that I am writing this, is the first day of spring. It has been a long time coming, but the unpredictable weather patterns prove it is here. It is quite appropriate that I spend a part of my day treating a scouring calf. It just comes with the territory, but this year it seems so much worse.

We’ve had calves that were up and running in the morning and dead by evening from pneumonia. We had calves linger on the brink of death only to rally again and die the following week. It’s a disheartening business, this treating of calves.

In my piece of the pasture we faced a record-breaking winter, both in terms of snowfall and temperatures. It gave rise to a harsh calving season and the subsequent sicknesses. For us and for many of our veterinary practice’s clientele, it’s been a winter of dead and dying calves. I know one operation where out of the hundred heifers calved, half died from scours. Even though we wear the hat of both rancher and veterinarian, plenty of our calves have fallen victim. Too bad we don’t have the magic formula.

Speaking of magic formulas, this season all the wives’ tales on curing scouring calves have come out. And, honestly, I am not above trying any and all of them. A thread on Facebook with a plea for help to treat scouring calves boasted 120 comments, some of them advising a slew of commercial products ranging from Resorb to boluses. The vast majority claimed homeopathic remedies that “hadn’t lost a calf in years.”

We’ve all heard about a raw egg down the hatch. What about apple cider vinegar directly in the rumen? Or oregano oil rubbed on the ears? My favorites are drenching with a variety of household food, including Coke, buttermilk, cocoa powder, baby cereal, apple juice, black coffee and instant potatoes – not necessarily together, but that’s an idea too.

Unfortunately the resident veterinarian’s medical sensibilities are repelled by these ideas. He does have his own cocktail treatment, which consists of distilled water, baking soda, electrolytes and dry pasture. It does work a good portion of the time, but still, there is no magic formula.

The best solution is the end of calving season and the end of winter. Unfortunately, at the end of winter comes spring, the proverbial passageway of “it has to get worse before it gets better.” The next six weeks will consist of alternations of 30 mph winds and rain bursts. There is so much to love about spring, but there is also so much to hate.

For a region where winter storms and spring rains are literally our lifeblood, I know I am complaining an awful lot about them. I mean really, the agricultural industry in California was on the brink of extinction until this La Nina weather pattern that produced a wet winter in the West. We aren’t the only ones suffering. The prairies of Oklahoma and Texas burned in a raging wildfire that evaded media attention and the Northeast is threatened by a nor’easter storm that includes 2 feet of snow.

I don’t know if it is climate change, the hundred-year storm or just the stuff of life – but I tell you what, this girl is ready for summer.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

PHOTO: Photo by Paul Marchant.