see also Hand Rearing Lambs, Kids and Calves

  • Diarrhoea (or scours) can be a problem in hand-reared lambs, calves and kids in the first week or two of life.
  • It’s a lot easier to prevent scours than to treat them, and the key to prevention is ensuring good feed quality, appropriate feeding regimes and good hygiene.
  • It’s also very important to keep the animals warm and dry and to keep stress to a minimum.
  • The younger the animal is, the more at risk it is from diarrhoea.
  • The milk you feed them should be as close as possible to the real thing, so for example sheep milk powder is far better for lambs than calf milk powder.
  • The instructions provided on bags of commercial milk powders indicate what concentration, volume and frequency of feeding are best.  Follow the instructions carefully.


  • Scours in unweaned livestock can be nutritional or infectious.
  • The nutritional causes of scours include poor quality or inappropriate milk or supplements, or sudden changes in feed type.
  • Giving milk that is too cold or too warm, and giving too much at once can contribute.
  • The infectious causes of scours include viruses like rotavirus, small parasites like cryptosporidia and bacteria like E coli and Salmonella.
  • Calf starter meal should be fresh and of good quality.  Stale or poor-quality meals can cause scours.
  • Avoid feeding silage and chaff to very young animals.


  • Young animals that have been fed colostrum in the first week of life have a head start.
  • They will be resistant to many infections because colostrum is rich in protective antibodies.
  • Feed milk formulation at the concentration, volume and frequency indicated on the packaging.
  • To help prevent infection, keep the environment as clean as possible.
  • Wash all the utensils carefully between animals, soak them in dilute bleach and at least once a day and rinse well.
  • Isolate scouring animals, keep their utensils separate and feed them last to reduce the risk of spreading an infection to other animals.
  • Resistance to disease is reduced by stress, so it is important to ensure all hand-reared animals are dry, warm, comfortable and content.


  • An animal has diarrhoea if its faeces are runny or watery and if it passes faeces more frequently than usual.
  • It will probably be soiled below the anus down its back legs.
  • The faeces may contain mucus and/or blood and may be smelly.
  • The colour may be abnormal, eg white or pasty or very dark.
  • The animal may strain as if trying to defaecate, it may hold its tail up, refuse to suck, it may be dull, its abdomen may become bloated, it will become dehydrated with sunken dull eyes, and if the diarrhoea is bad or persistent it will become weak and it will die.


  • For very mild diarrhoea, dilute the concentration of the milk offered for a day.
  • If the diarrhoea is more marked, replace milk with electrolyte solutions and consult your vet.
  • If the diarrhoea is watery or contains mucus or blood, or if the animal shows weakness or a bloated abdomen or pain, or if it refuses to suck or is dehydrated, it is important to consult your vet at once.
  • Treatment may involve management changes or antibiotic treatment or both.
  • The earlier treatment is begun, the more successful it is likely to be, and early treatment is particularly important when the animal is very young.
  • It is important to offer free access to drinking water at all times.