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MMN July 2023 – Small Calf Syndrome (SCS)

11 July 2023

SRUC Veterinary Services at St Boswells have recently been investigating the occurrence of unusually small calves from five spring calving suckler herds in the area. The affected herds have either had these calves aborted in late pregnancy, stillborn or born alive. While the calves look normal and in proportion, they are small and thin, with poor muscle mass and tend to weigh less than 20kg.

At the moment, the cause of these small calves is unknown, but it is not thought to be a result of infectious disease. The placenta of affected calves appears abnormal, with a white surface and fluid accumulation between the layers of the placenta typically seen.

The photos below show the placentae from an SCS calf on the left and a normal placenta on the right. The red arrows indicate the cotyledons, which are much smaller in the abnormal placenta.

An abnormal placenta from a small calf (LHS) and a normal placenta (RHS)


Other observations from affected calves include thick amniotic membranes, which are difficult to break at calving. Investigations are on-going and it is thought that this issue is related to placental development and maternal nutrition and environment around the time when cotyledons are developing and rapidly increasing in number, typically in the first two months of gestation.

The following picture shows newly born, live twin calves, one of which was of normal size at around 40kg, but its twin was an SCS calf weighing only around 20kg.

Small Calf

So far, all cases of SCS have been found in suckler herds but we are keen to hear whether this issue has been seen in any dairy herds. If you suspect you have had any unusually small calves born (or late aborted/stillborn calves) we would be keen to hear from you to aid our investigations. Please contact Val Angus at with further information and your contact details.; 07760 990901

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