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Diarrhea remains an important cause of illness and death of young beef calves. The economic effects of calf scours can be profound. Some beef cattle herds annually experience death rates of 5 to 10 percent or greater, sometimes with up to 100 percent of calves being ill. Economic costs to the disease include loss of performance, mortality, and the expense of medication and labor to treat sick calves. In addition, herd owners and their employees often become disheartened after investing long hours to treat scouring calves during an already exhausting calving season.
Management practices can have a profound effect on the health of cattle. Our objective was to prevent neonatal calf diarrhea in ranch systems typical of the Nebraska Sandhills by designing and testing calving systems that would prevent calves from making effective contacts with scours pathogens. An effective contact is an exposure to pathogens of a dose-load or duration sufficient to cause disease. Effective contacts can be prevented by physical separating animals, reducing the level of exposure (e.g. through the use of sanitation or dilution over space), or minimizing contact time. These actions have been successfully applied in calf hutch systems to control neonatal diseases in dairy calves. The management actions we defined as the Sandhills Calving System (Figure 1) were designed to prevent effective contacts by:
1) Segregating calves by age to prevent direct and indirect transmission of pathogens from older to younger calves
2) Routinely moving pregnant cows to new calving pastures to minimize pathogen doseload and contact time