Back to Research & Development

Subscribe to R&D Round-Up newsletter

Stay informed with a short, sharp monthly summary of MLA’s latest research reports.

Sign up

Calf scours

Scours in young calves is caused by an interaction between the environment, the health of the calf and the presence of disease-causing agents (pathogens). Common pathogens that cause calf scours include bacteria, viruses and protozoa.

Conditions when calf scours are likely to occur

  • first six weeks of life
  • calves from heifers and cows with low immunity
  • incidences of severe copper or selenium deficiencies
  • careless handling, such as inconsistent temperature of milk replacer in hand-reared calves.

Identification and diagnosis

Exposure to the pathogens that cause calf scours is a normal part of 'growing up' for calves and most farms will have a few calves that have sticky white or yellow diarrhoea around their tails.

While technically not a disease but more a clinical condition, the cause of calf scours can be infectious or non-infectious. Diagnosis of the cause of calf scours will require assistance from a veterinarian. Knowing the specific cause of calf scours allows specific prevention strategies and treatment protocols to be put in place.


An integrated approach to prevent calf scours should consider the following:

  • developing and implementing a farm biosecurity plan
  • minimising contact between young calves and potential sources of infection
  • maximising colostrum intake, calf welfare and nutrition during the first six weeks of life
  • avoiding the introduction of new calf scours pathogens into the herd.