Tackling calf scour – Time to think vaccination

The newborn calf will face many infectious diseases in the early stages of life, with calf scour being one of the most common challenges.

Creating a calf health plan now, will help reduce the risk of calf scour occurring in the first place. For Cork dairy farmer, James Murphy, this means making sure colostrum is of the highest quality, in addition to ensuring good environmental hygiene and management on farm.

James highlights the key steps he is taking in preparation for calving 2022 and why vaccination plays such an integral role in his calf health plan to reduce the risk of calf scour occurring on his farm.

Good Colostrum Management – Key to preventing calf scour 

Calves are most at risk of calf scour during the first 4 weeks of life; therefore, rely entirely on good high-quality colostrum for protection.

Paul Ryan, Vet Practitioner with Waterside Vets, Co. Limerick, said that “to achieve adequate protection from calf scour, we recommend vaccinating the cow or heifer with the Bovilis Scour Vaccine 12-3 weeks prior to calving.

“This will allow her to increase the concentration of antibodies produced in colostrum antibodies against the main calf scour causing pathogens,” said Paul.

It is critical that the calf receives three litres of good-quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth. The calf should also be fed within the first two hours of birth, to obtain the necessary antibodies which will kick start the calf’s immune system and protect against disease. 

According to James, “vaccinating the cows prior to calving gives us an extra boost of confidence going into the calving period as we know the colostrum contains the critical antibodies to reduce the risk of calf scour.

“We place a big emphasis on getting the colostrum right and into the calf as soon as possible after birth. We operate the 1,2,3 rule of colostrum, and use a Brix Refractometer to ensure calves receive high-quality colostrum with a reading greater than 22%.”  

Calf health programme to reduce calf scour

The direct cost of treating calf scour can be easily determined from treatment costs and losses, but the overall indirect losses, such as reduced growth rates and labour requirements, are often underestimated.

“We vaccinate against calf scour for two main reasons: Animal welfare and labour. We don’t want the animals getting sick, and from an animal performance point of view, it is important that they reach their target growth rates. Sick calves also add to the workload at an already busy time of year,” explained James. 

He continues, “since vaccinating with the Bovilis Scour Vaccine, we have had no sick calves and there is less pressure on the animals as well as the people working on the farm.”

It is important to remember that calf scour vaccination is not a substitute for good hygiene, housing, and environmental factors. Every attempt should be made to keep housing clean and dry, and reduce draughts, where possible.

All feeding equipment should be disinfected after every milk feeding and calf pens should be cleaned out, power washed and disinfected between batches of calves to reduce the build-up of bugs. 

Bovilis Scour Vaccine – At A Glance

calf scour
  • Single shot primary course.
  • Low dose volume (2ml shot).
  • Intramuscular administration.
  • Broad window of vaccination (Vaccinate pregnant cows 12-3 weeks pre-calving).
  • Reduces the severity of diarrhoea caused by E. coli (K99).
  • Reduces the incidence of scours caused by rotavirus.
  • Reduces the shedding of virus by calves infected with rotavirus and coronavirus.
  • Unique 28 day in-use shelf life.
  • Reduce the risk of breakage with new PET bottles.
  • Available in 5, 20 and now 50 dose packs.

For more information, visit the MSD Animal Health scour page or talk to your vet about the Bovilis Scour Vaccine.


Bovilis Scour Vaccine – The leading calf scour vaccine

The Bovilis Scour Vaccine is a single-shot injectable vaccination, given to pregnant cows to subsequently help protect the calf from diarrhoea caused by rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli (k99), once the calf has been fed sufficient colostrum.

The Bovilis Scour Vaccine is a single 2ml vaccine. It is administered to pregnant cattle 12 – 3 weeks prior to calving. It is given into the muscle of the animal.

scour vaccine

The Bovilis Scour Vaccine will stimulate the dam to produce antibodies which will protect the calf against rotavirus, coronavirus and E.coli (K99). These antibodies will be stored in the dam’s colostrum. The dam will pass these antibodies to the calf through the colostrum at the first milk feeding.

This is why is is crucial that the calf receives adequate colostrum as soon as possible after birth.

Remember the 1,2,3 rule when feeding colostrum. In the 1st 2 hours, ensure the calf gets at least 3 litres of colostrum. Feeding the calf good quality colostrum will enhance the protection of the calf against these scour causing pathogens.

New additions to the Bovilis Scour Vaccine

The Bovilis Scour Vaccine has undergone some recent changes. The following are some of the changes to note:

  • The vaccine pack has changed from blue to purple packaging.
  • A new 50 dose pack size, is now available to complement our current 5 dose and 20 dose presentations and to support use whatever the herd size.
  • All presentations are being transitioned from glass to a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle, instead of glass vials, to reduce the risk of breakage.
scour vaccine

Bovilis Scour Vaccine – How does it work?

  • Single shot primary course
  • Low dose volume (2ml shot)
  • Intramuscular (IM) administration
  • Broad window of vaccination (Vaccinate pregnant cows 12-3 weeks pre-calving)
scour vaccine

Why choose the Bovilis Scour Vaccine?

  • Reduces the severity of diarrhoea caused by E. coli (K99)
  • Reduces the incidence of scours caused by rotavirus
  • Reduces the shedding of virus by calves infected with rotavirus and coronavirus
  • Unique 28 day in-use shelf life
  • Reduces the risk of breakage with new PET bottles
  • Available in 5, 20 and now 50 dose packs

NEW calf scour guide

Want to learn more about calf scour and how you can use the Bovilis Scour Vaccine to protect your calves against scour? Check out our NEW Calf Scour Guide by scrolling through the PDF document below.

Ask your vet about our new Calf Scour Guide and how you can use the Bovilis Scour Vaccine to help reduce the risk of calf scour occurring on your farm.


Kieran Flatley – All Set For Spring

Kieran Flatley gives us an insight to how he prepared for calving this spring

For more information on any of the products or diseases Kieran mentioned in this video, check out the links below. Alternatively, speak to your vet on how these products can be used within your herd.

Bovipast RSP & Bovilis IBR Marker Live

Scour vaccine & crypto control


In Control – Dairy Farmer Shares His Experience Tackling Calf Scour

We caught up with Michael Clarke to see how he got on tackling cryptosporidium on his dairy farm during the spring of 2020.

“We got great results with little or no sick days. We went 100% by the book and did what we were meant to. Last Spring, we gave it to calves from the first day of the calving season, on day one of the calf’s life. We continued giving it to the calf for the full 7 days after feeding and that’s the reason we got such good results” said Michael

Filmed in Spring 2019

The Westmeath dairy farmer had a bad run with cryptosporidium some years ago. “It was a nightmare. It involved shocking work over two to three weeks, keeping calves alive through feeding electrolytes and water – not to mention the cost of treatment and the loss of a few calves.”

Lynn and Michael Clarke.  All calves are being treated with the oral solution for the treatment and prevention of diarrhoea caused by Cryptosporidium parvum 

Cryptosporidiosis is one of the main causes of scour in calves less than two weeks of age. Caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum, it results in acute scour and abdominal pain.

“We had the first outbreak in 2018. It didn’t hit until around the 7th of March when most of the cows had calved.

“In 2019, it came much earlier – around the 22nd of February. This was right in the middle of calving. Intervention came too late” said Michael.

At one stage, his vet John Moore had to put eight calves on a drip. Four of them died. “The labour and the cost was horrendous” said Michael

It was after this episode that Michael decided, following the advice of John Moore, that to get on top of cryptosporidiosis all calves must receive the oral solution from birth.

Oral solution

As soon as cryptosporidiosis was diagnosed in 2018, John Moore prescribed the oral solution which is licensed for the treatment and prevention of diarrhoea caused by Cryptosporidium parvum. Containing the active ingredient Halofuginone lactate, it is available only on veterinary prescription.

  • As a treatment, it should be given to calves within 24 hours after the onset of diarrhoea, once a day for seven consecutive days. Make sure calves are fully hydrated before treating them with the oral solution.
  • As a prevention, it should be given to every calf 24 to 48 hours after birth, once a day after milk feeding for seven consecutive days.

Learning From The Past

Michael Clarke administered the oral solution in 2018 and 2019, only after the first calves were diagnosed with cryptosporidium in each of these years.

“Last year, we didn’t wait for the disease to hit. Instead, we started the programme at the beginning of the calving season. Calves received their first dose the day after birth for seven days.”

The Clarkes are very diligent in their calf rearing practices. Calves are given plenty of colostrum within a few hours of birth and close attention is paid to nutrition levels and to bedding, hygiene and ventilation. This demonstrates that even with good management, cryptosporidiosis is an ever–present risk.

“It’s a must to have your sheds properly power washed and disinfected before calving starts. Previous years, I wasn’t using the product correctly either. I wouldn’t have finished the treatment course and then problems start arising. Three to four weeks into calving, the disease pressure is at its highest and there’re a lot of calves on the ground. So last year, we cleaned out the calf shed every 10 days but didn’t power wash or disinfect as we didn’t have time to let the sheds dry. That, along with the treatment and good management was effective at keeping the disease at bay” said Michael

Michael saw fantastic results in controlling cryptosporidiosis however some calves started to show positive signs of rotavirus around 4 weeks into the calving season.

“When the calves got a heavy infection of cryptosporidium in 2019, I decided to drop the scour vaccine last year. This resulted in the calves getting a touch of rotavirus at around day 18 of the calving season. I talked to John (vet) and we decided that we would vaccinate the cows with the scour vaccine again this year and protect the calves against cryptosporidium from the start of calving season. I get great peace of mind with this broad range of cover” said Michael

Veterinary practitioner John Moore.

Disease Can Get Out of Control

Veterinary practitioner John Moore said where cryptosporidiosis is a problem on a farm the use of the oral solution should be a critical component of the prevention programme. “All calves should be treated daily from 24 to 48 hours old for seven consecutive days.

“Because the disease hits so fast, it can get out of control before the farmer has time to take action. Mortality can be high and even when calves survive, thrive can be severely affected.”

“While the oral solution is not cheap, its use as a prevention is a more economical option than the massive labour, stress and cost involved in treating sick calves as well as the potential losses from dead calves and poor thrive in those that survive,” he stressed.

He highlighted the importance of strictly following the instructions on the use of the oral solution. “Dosage levels should correspond to the weight of the calf and when used as a treatment, make sure the calf is fully hydrated and bright before use.”

Millions of Oocysts

As part of its life cycle, Cryptosporidium parvum produces huge numbers of encysted eggs, or oocysts, which are shed in the faeces of infected calves, cows or other animals.

At peak shedding there may be as many as 10 million oocysts per gram or faeces. It takes as few as 20 of these to cause disease in young, susceptible calves.

Typically, clinical signs appear in calves from 5 to 14 days old. These can vary greatly – from mild diarrhoea to severe, watery scours and eventually death. Calves become rapidly dehydrated and suffer loss of appetite.

Period of rapid expansion

The Clarkes converted to dairying in 2010. They ran a suckler herd of 100 cows and bought in around 140 weanling bulls. There was also a flock of 100 ewes.

They bought 200,000l of quota under the new entrant scheme and started off milking 48 heifers.

Last year, they milked 270 cows. This year, they will calve 280 cows and plan to milk around 260. The remainder are being sold as in-calf heifers.

“Our plan was to milk 120 cows. But a neighboring farm of 114 acres came up for lease and we decided to go for it. An additional 50 acres also became available and we leased that too,” said Michael.


2020 Virtual Farmers Journal Dairy Day

This year, the Farmers Journal #DairyDay will be held virtually on Tuesday the 24th of November. The virtual event is divided into three different sessions which can be viewed for free at here

2020 Dairy Day

As we move into the winter months, it’s a great time to reassess the herds winter vaccination plans prior to calving next spring. MSD Animal Health advise that a month pre-calving is a good time to give a booster shot of Bovilis IBR Marker Live.

The Bovilis IBR Marker Live 12-month vaccine protocol. Consult with your vet to access if this protocol is suitable for your herd.

Also, the time for scour vaccination is soon approaching. Remember, vaccinate cows & heifers 12 to 3 weeks prior to calving to provide passive protection to calves through colostrum feeding against three common causes of scour. For more information on winter vaccination, talk to your vet.

See some of our product and disease brochures below. If you have any questions, please contact your local vet to discuss in more detail.


Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme


As part of the Green Acres program, Agriland have constructed a Calf Health and Management series. As part of that series, Suzanne Naughton from MSD Animal Health discussed some of the key challenges when purchasing calves and the role of vaccination throughout the rearing period.

While calf purchase price and the genetics of the calf are foremost in terms of making a profit on calf-to-beef systems, calf health is also a pillar which deserves significant consideration. Focusing on hygiene and vaccination is the best policy to ensuring this happens. Pneumonia and scour are the two major illnesses that compromise calf health and reduce lifetime performance.

Prevention is always better and cheaper than the cure and a health plan should be implemented on-farm. It should be noted that no amount of vaccination can overcome a lack of quality colostrum administered to the calf at birth and the bacterial and viral challenges calves face when the environment they are reared in is not up to scratch.

Check out the full video below for more information. Also, you can find out more about the vaccines mentioned in this video by clicking on them below
Bovilis INtranasal RSP Live
Bovipast RSP
Bovilis IBR Marker Live

Vaccine Management

Remember that correctly administering and storing vaccines is important to improve the success of a vaccination programme.

“Once you get your vaccines, they should be kept in the fridge until you are ready to go with your batch of animals.

“Vaccines should be made up according to the recommendations on the data sheet in the box – all the information on how much to administer and where is on the data sheet provided.

“Start with a clean needle and a clean syringe. If you are using an old dirty needle, you are increasing the likelihood of an abscess or lump developing.”