Do you manage your Downer cows well?

Do you manage your Downer cows well?
By Caroline Hamilton, Veterinarian, Anexa FVC Huntly

Now you are busy with multiple mobs, multiple jobs plus milking and calves, the “down cow” can be easily neglected. We know that down cows that are looked after well are more likely to get up and have a successful lactation, so for a late season downer make sure you have a plan. Assigning one person the responsibility of looking after the down cow may be a good start.

1) Primary carer

Who is going to be in charge of nursing the downers? From experience of visiting multiple downers it is much better if one person is in charge rather than a loose arrangement of multiple people possibly getting to do it at some stage in their day. One primary carer gets much better continuity of treatment and a better ability to notice changes particularly important to being able to access if there is no improvement or rapid deterioration demonstrating the cow needs to be euthanised. Good downer cow nursing takes time and the primary carer needs to have enough time to do a proper job.

2) Downer pad

Have a pre-organised downer pad set up which you can take the cow to in the tractor tray. Ideally this is a deep bed of well-draining material such as sand, shavings or large wood chips in a dry well draining barn. The softness of these pads can drastically reduce the onset of pressure necrosis compared to a grass paddock. If you cannot move her from the paddock, then put down the same well-draining material beside her and lift her onto this.

3) Hip clamps and Slings

In a very short period after going down pressure on the lower body results in a decreased circulation to these tissues resulting in hypoxia or a lack of oxygen at cell level and cell death starts. This is often very rapid if the cause the cow is down with initially makes her completely unable to move or shift her position.
Early correction of lateral recumbence is essential, which if left it can result in regurgitation and aspiration of stomach contents. Also, rapid depletion of energy as cow continuously paddle their legs trying to get up. Place the cow in the dog sitting position so no limbs are under the body .Have something like hay or silage bales ready to use to keep the cow propped up in this position. Regularly check her to ensure she is not sitting on a limb.
Early and regular lifting through the day is often a make or break component to getting a cow back on her feet. Often lifting is required to be able to diagnose what the problem is so if you can have the tractor and lifting equipment there when the Vet turns up is always good.

A lot of you will be using hip lifters (cost approx. $270) to lift your downers but I would encourage you to look at purchasing a cow sling (cost approx. $400) which have multiple advantages over hip lifters and will last several seasons. Older hip lifter models that don’t have cushioning should not be used.

4) Cow cover

If you don’t have a barn as an option, use a cow cover (cost is approximately $350), or failing that, a large tarp that can be put over the cow in the paddock. Emergency thermal blankets used under the cow cover or tarp (cost approx. $5) are good to use too. Being warm and dry also means far less energy is needed to expend on keeping warm and being hypothermic drastically decreases a cows chance of getting up. Many downer cows that we have been called to are so cold, their temperature is so low it won’t register on a thermometer.

5) Medical kit

Early diagnosis of the cause of a cow going down and early remedial treatment is essential. If there is no rapid response or you are unsure of the diagnosis and/or treatment, then call your Vet out EARLY. We are far more likely to make a difference initially rather than when she has been down for four days. Also, it may be the condition she has will mean she will never get up and if this is diagnosed early on, then the cow can be euthanised humanly and the cost of treatment and time spent nursing is not spent unnecessarily.

Rapid early treatment, particularly with Metabolic’s and Mastitis Downer’s, is often pivotal. Get your downer kit ready, and if you use something, restock with a Farmacy order. You should have a range of Flexi metabolic bags, some drenchable sugars such as Acetol or Ketol plus, anti-inflammatory and antibiotics. We know of several cases where cows have died of milk fever because the farmer didn’t know how to give IV injections and/or didn’t have any Calcium on farm. We can train you or your workers on how to safely give IV injections to cows.

6) 24/7 drinking water access from large suitable container

Dairy cows drink around 70 litres of water per day. A large portion of downer cows we see are dehydrated as they do not receive enough water to meet there needs. Often I see a 20 litre bucket on its side beside the cow, it may have had a drink, but this does not give it continuous access and usually not nearly enough. There are lots of good cost-effective cow side drinking troughs available, they can’t be tipped and hold all a cow requires for a 24-hour period.

7) Adequate food

Often the downer goes down in a paddock that has been eaten out, if you don’t have a downer pad then try to get her to a paddock with lots of grass in it. High producing cows are usually on a diet which include lots of supplements be it silage, PK, meal or maize. If they just get grass only to eat they often can’t get enough to fill their maintenance energy needs, so providing extra cow side supplementary food is also essential. We advise this even if they are on just a grass-based system, as often a cow cannot move to get enough grass when down.

Do you remember the Upper Cow Seminar we held in 2016 that shared information on how to care for down cows?
Watch videos on youtube.com for tips and tricks to move, lift, roll, and care for your down cow. search down cow DairyAustralia or check out the down cow info on the Dairy NZ website https://bit.ly/2LruNqd


Date Added: Wednesday, 1st August 2018


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