Reports of coccidiosis problems in calves

10 April 2019

As spring progresses, many farmers are reporting poor thriving calves with a slight scour.

When the cause is investigated and scour samples tested by the lab, coccidiosis is frequently being diagnosed.

Coccidiosis is a condition that affects young calves and is caused by a protozoa called coccidia. These can remain dormant in the environment for a long time, even years. As the calf eats from troughs and licks around the environment, it ingests the coccodia, which causes damage to the calf’s gut during its life cycle.

The type and severity of scour can vary, from the classic signs of a calf with a raised tail and frequently straining to try to pass dark scour containing blood and mucus. However, more recently I am seeing less severe signs, such as a calf that is a ‘poor doer’ with pasty scour and a low growth rate. These differences in the severity of scour depends on the amounts of coccidia in the environment and the immune function of the calves.

A number of treatments are available through your vet to treat coccidiosis, such as decoquinate, toltrazuril and diclazuril, and your vet can help you choose the best one for your farm as they have different duration of actions. However, to avoid the financial loss associated with feeding calves that are not growing as they should, there are a few tips on preventing coccidiosis in calves.

1. Hygiene

  • Good hygiene will lower the levels of coccidia in the environment.
  • An ‘all in, all out’ system allows cleaning of pens between batches.
  • As coccidia are quite resistant, disinfection and steam cleaning reduces the environmental burden.

2. Management

  •  Keep pens clean and dry by good drainage, ventilation and adequate bedding.
  • Feed calves using troughs that are high and away from the ground.
  • Keep water troughs clean and free from contamination. 
  • Rest any calf paddocks that have been used for a number of years. 
  • Spot any signs of coccidiosis early to isolate and treat calves.

3. Nutrition

  • Support the calves’ immune system by good nutrition 
  • This means giving calves a good amount of calf milk replacer and concentrates, both containing a good vitamin, mineral and additive pack that nutritionally supports the calves’ immune function.
  • In addition, the feed additive EMX is available from many feed manufacturers. EMX is designed to maintain the normal nutritional balance of a healthy digestive system and is used to treat the feed in the presence of coccidia.