How To Treat Scouring Calves

How to treat scouring calves can be fairly straight forward or it can be messy and complicated and require a great deal of attention and patience. Scours is an evil word in my book! The scours is not a disease itself, but a symptom of a disease or illness characterized by diarrhea. In English, The flu gives you diarrhea, makes sense right? As with any animal or human, diarrhea causes dehydration. That is what kills your calf most of the time if they are scouring. It does not take very long at all for a young calf to die with the scours if left untreated. I’m talking in just a couple days. I cannot express the importance of hydrating. Hydrate, hydrate hydrate! Before you run for the bottle to hydrate though, check your calf’s’ temperature. A fever indicates some kind of infection and that needs to be addressed as well. If your calf is cold or cool it could mean infection as well.  For me cold calves have generally indicated they were on their way out.  A normal temp for a calf is 101.5. If your calf’s temp is lower than normal the very first thing you must do is get that calf warm! My vet informed me that a calf with a low temp cannot digest its food, and the rumen will shut down. So do whatever you must to get it warm. Blankets, hot water bottles, heat lamps, bring it in the house and cover it up. Do all things mentioned if you must. Get that calf warmed back up! Yes I have had calves goats, squirrels, rabbits and even chickens (in a cage) in the house due to illness or injury.


I had a calf this spring and she gave me absolute fits for nearly a month. I bought her from a man who had a deal with a farmer. She was supposed to be a week old, she was perhaps 3 days old. To top it off she hadn’t been given the mothers colostrum, but the store bought stuff. Yeah not a happy camper was I, lesson well learned about buying calves. On the way home with my husband she was in the back seat of our Chevy s-10 extended cab, and she let loose, it was an hour drive, o dear the stench! ….  It started with the scours caused by too much milk, her belly wasn’t big enough for the 3/4 calf bottle and then it led to other hideous things like Coccidia and Acidosis. I found out after my second week of battle.  To get back to the beginning of this nightmare though on the second day she was down, and we were not sure if she was going to make it. The scours had taken a massive turn for the worst and it was just liquid coming out and her temp was low, she wouldn’t suckle like she should and she wouldn’t stand.  I quickly sewed her a calf blanket, put her in a sick bay which was the old milk house part of our barn, then I boxed her in with hay bales, put a heat lamp directly over her a couple of feet. I did end up bringing her in the house, returning her to sick bay when I had her temp under control. After I had gotten her back up to temp the first thing I did was poured electrolytes down her. I used Bounce Back from Tractor Supply; it’s a bright blue liquid when mixed. She drank the first quart (I was giving her a quart at a time if I could get it down her.) then the second, thought she was going to snap out of it, then she quite sucking. O MY GOD!!!! That meant tube feeding, and I was scared to death! My husband has plenty of experience farming me not nearly as much. Well talk about learning in a hurry! I’ve been on enough dairies to have seen tube feeding close up, but watching is so not the same as doing. I was a basket case thinking about it and how I could drown her if I did it wrong. Believe it or not I found a video on You Tube that was beyond helpful and frankly it probably saved Adeline’s life. My husband helped me the first few times, but eventually I had to do this myself. Putting the tube with the ball on it down her throat was pretty traumatic for me and Addy. She didn’t want it there and I didn’t want to put it there but she had to eat. Well you gently but firmly put the tube down, they will let it go down with some help ( pressure from you) Anyway feel on the side of their neck first you can feel their esophagus, when you have the tube in the right place you can feel the tube next to it. You can literally feel the length of the tube through their hide. Once you have this figured it, it is much less traumatizing for you at least it was for me.


I had to tube feed this calf off and on for nearly 2 weeks mostly on. You should not have to feed a calf that long with a tube feeder. A few feeding should be all that you need.


I’m sure if you found this page you were probably trying to figure out how to treat the scours so let’s get to it.

Treating the Scours


  • Many calves you just need to provide them with Re-sorb or Bounce Back which are the brands I use or some other form of electrolyte just make sure that it is the buffer kind that has some sort of jelling solution in it. This is what keeps the liquid in them long enough to pull something from it before it flies right out of them. Follow the instructions on the package.


For more extreme cases this is what I did.


  • Feed 1 quart bounce back, resorb or like product every 2 hours.
  • One bottle straight Bounce Back then a bottle with the Bounce Back and 4 ounces Pepto Bismo. Do this for 2 days at least. I stopped the round the clock after the 2nd night. From then on I stopped feeding at 11 pm and resumed at 7am.


On the 3rd day

  • Start with Bounce Back then
  • Second feeding 1 quart milk replacer plus pepto bismo or whatever you are feeding for milk and repeat process until calf is back to normal a few days.


For even more extreme cases which mine was I did all the above and after several days the vet said to add a spoonful of baking soda to her bottle. For the treatment of Acidosis.


By the second week she was up and around things were looking very good she was on her milk drinking from bottle. I was still feeding a quart at a time and then suddenly she went right back down, Right back to tube feeding and electrolytes and a ride to the vet. Something was totally not right here. It ended up the poor thing had the scours AGAIN! and she had coccidia, she was underweight, lacking vitamins and needed selenium and a steroid shot. She was however pretty well hydrated. The vet said that all this was more than likely due to been pulled off mother right away and not having been given selenium then the extreme scouring had left her malnourished. So with coccidia pills in hand and instructions to keep on doing what I was doing plus giving her a shot of vitamin B complex daily Back home I went.


Returning home her feed plan was

  • 1 quart bounce back plain, 1 with pepto for 2 days again plus 1of the bottles had 1 spoonful of baking soda in the morning.
  • The third day after the vet she still got Pepto Bismo every other feeding 4 ounces,
  • plus I bought her the tube paste Probios and gave her that each morning. I did this for a week.
  • Then I fed her just her milk 1 quart each feeding, her shot, and her Probios.


After a month she was just fine and up to 1 1/2 bottles per feeding. Now She’s a fat sassy 6 month old. Eating pasture grain and hay.


You would be ahead if you went to your farm supply and bought a gallon of the bismuth or whatever the exact name is for animal pepto. It is a lot cheaper that way. My poor husband was running around our little country stores just about closing time buying the overpriced pepto off the shelves. Vigilance and dedication are needed in times like this. It can sometimes mean the difference in life and death

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