Neonatal Calf Diarrhea: Reducing Impacts and Antibiotic Use with Natural Therapies

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $142,375.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Greg Habing
The Ohio State University

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: herbal medicines, preventive practices, therapeutics
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Nearly 8% of dairy calves die prior to weaning, and over half of those deaths are attributable to neonatal calf  diarrhea (NCD). Twenty percent of all dairy heifers are treated with antimicrobials for diarrhea prior to weaning (USDA, 2010). Antimicrobials designated as “critically important” to human medicine by the World Health Organization (WHO) are commonly used to treat NCD, including aminoglycosides and 3rd generation cephalosporins (Collignon, 2009; USDA, 2010). Calf-raising operations provide a unique microbial niche, where immature intestinal flora, dense animal populations, and frequent application of antimicrobials facilitate the emergence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens. To mitigate the development of resistance, The Food and Drug administration recently enacted additional restrictions on antimicrobial use in livestock (FDA, 2012). There is a large opportunity to reduce antimicrobial use and improve profitability through more widespread implementation of prevention practices known to be effective. Additionally, organic and conventional calf producers have a critical need for evidence-based non-antimicrobial alternative therapies. Non-antimicrobial alternative therapies have been shown to be protect calves in challenge trials (Still et al. 1990), and may be useful to mitigate the progression and necessity of antimicrobial therapy for NCD. Therefore, our overall hypothesis is that improved implementation of prevention practices, education on judicious antimicrobial use, and the development of evidence-based, non-antimicrobial alternative therapies will reduce the impact and antimicrobial use associated with NCD. First, we will conduct a representative survey of calf producers across three NCR states to understand knowledge, opinions and resource limitations associated with the lack of implementation of prevention practices and non-judicious antimicrobial use. The survey will also gather data on the types and usage frequency of nonantimicrobial alternative therapies used by calf producers. Second, we will test the efficacy of two promising alternative therapies, lactoferrin and garlic extract, for mitigating the progression, impact, and necessity of antimicrobial treatments in NCD. Third, we will incorporate the complementary results of the first and second aims into extension education, and use a longitudinal approach to explicitly measure changes in implementation of prevention practices, health outcomes, and antimicrobial use.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Specific Aims, Hypotheses, and Objectives

    Specific Aim 1: To use a cross-sectional survey to identify strategies to improve implementation of prevention practices, improve judicious antimicrobial use, and assess the use of non-antimicrobial alternative therapies by calf producers.

    Hypothesis: The lack of implementation of prevention practices, non-judicious antimicrobial use, and use of alternative therapies are associated with producer knowledge, skills, and resources.


    1. Determine knowledge, skill, or resource limitations associated with the lack of implementation of effective prevention practices.
    2. Identify the decision criteria for antimicrobial use and factors associated with non-judicious antimicrobial use. 
    3. Characterize the types, usage frequency, and perception of efficacy of non-antimicrobial alternative therapies used by calf producers.

    Specific Aim 2: To develop evidence-based treatment protocols for calf diarrhea that incorporate nonantimicrobial alternative therapies.

    Hypothesis: The use of commercial electrolytes supplemented with lactoferrin and garlic extract for the treatment of calf diarrhea will result in fewer subsequent antimicrobial treatments and lower case fatality rate in pre-weaned dairy calves with diarrhea.

    1. Use a blinded randomized field trial to compare the antimicrobial treatment rate and case fatality rate between calves treated with commercial electrolytes alone or commercial electrolytes supplemented with lactoferrin or garlic extract.
    2. Incorporate the results of the field trial into evidence-based, written treatment protocols that can be disseminated to calf producers and calf health professionals.

    Specific aim 3: To develop and assess a comprehensive, research-based extension programming for dairy producers on best management practices, judicious antimicrobial use, and treatment protocols for calf diarrhea.

    Hypothesis: On-farm delivery of producer education programs will result in increased producer knowledge, improved implementation of prevention practices, improved calf survival, and reduced reliance on antimicrobials.

    1. For a subset of farms participating in the survey, utilize data from Specific Aim 1 to develop and deliver a series of educational modules on best management practices and effective treatment protocols with judicious antimicrobial use.
    2. Measure changes in producer knowledge and skills, implementation of prevention practices, calf health, and frequency of antimicrobial use.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.