How not to use electrolytes?
The calf care person spots a calf with scours. Lots of loose manure in her pen.
What to do? Aha! Feed electrolyte to her. At her next milk/milk replacer feeding dump in the electrolyte powder and presto! All done!
What is wrong with this description? "All done" is the big mistake here. Set aside your concern whether or not the electrolyte is formulated to be fed with milk. There is no effort to get the calf to drink extra fluids. In addition, by adding an additional three to four ounces of powder the dry matter concentration was being pushed up well above "normal" for either milk or milk replacer.
During a recent series of four farm visits this was the protocol for treating scours on all four farms. Just dump a packet of electrolyte powder into the calf's milk. Did I just happen to visit four farms that were unusual or is this really a common practice? This did get me thinking about the need to show calf care persons how to mix electrolyte powders with water. Is it any surprise that the folks I talked with were not impressed with the effectiveness of electrolytes in treating diarrhea?
I have seen estimates that calves with diarrhea often pass six to eight quarts of fluid daily. On one hand, if free-choice or ad lib. water is provided there is a chance the calf with drink enough to maintain an adequate hydration level. On the other hand, in my experience many scouring calves need to receive some extra encouragement to consume enough fluids.
I always made at least one extra visit to these calves to deliver either a bottle or pail with a warm electrolyte solution. My success rate for getting calves to drink extra fluids was best when I made these visits between regular feeding times. And, I admit it was not convenient to go back to calves with severe scours at 8:00 or 9:00 pm when they needed a two bottles of electrolytes per day (four quarts).