Do’s and don’ts of down cows, why is my cow down?

Do’s and don’ts of down cows, why is my cow down?
By Ali Cullum, Veterinarian, Anexa Vet Services Morrinsville

There are many possibilities... She might be down because she is calving or paralysed or has metabolic issues (lack of calcium / magnesium / phosphorous /energy); she could be down due to mastitis or salmonella or a broken leg or nitrate poisoning - the list goes on!

How am I going to solve the puzzle and decide what the problem is, and what to do?

If you really have no idea, then the easiest solution might be to call your veterinarian straight away! If it is a poisoning, then the sooner you call the vet, the sooner the antidote will arrive!

First have a look at the cow and what she is telling you: is she panting, is she asleep, is she straining, is she salivating, is her neck turned around to the side, has she passed faeces, is she urinating, have you checked her udder, any vaginal discharges, is she hot or cold?

Phil Poulton has made some great youtube videos for Dairy Australia on down cows:
Assessing a cow
Moving a down cow
Nursing a down cow

So, if it is milk fever and a calving and you have treated her successfully, she is bright and cheerful, but she still hasn’t got up, what now?

You need to get circulation to the legs, circulation to the body and food and water into her. She needs intensive nursing care if she is to survive and be a productive cow. Often she will be laid on wet cold ground, having been unable to eat or drink for several hours, and her body is in shut down mode. If you have a cow cover or horse blanket (or equivalent) that you can throw over her, that will help to raise the body temperature. Hypothermia significantly lowers survival rates – cold kills! Offer her water and easy to eat food – but you need to shut the other cows away from her first! Then the hip lifters are also useful – if the cow is making an effort, you may just need to lift the pelvis up so she can put weight on the back legs and she use her own front legs and will be away. If she is hanging from the hip lifters, it is much kinder to put a strap or thick rope under her chest so that she is supported at the front and back end. Allow her legs to get some circulation in them whilst she is up – rubbing with your hands helps, you can move her gently over to a new break or use the front end loader/carry all tray and take her to a barn with a deep layer of soft bedding. All these things will help her to regain her circulation. When you sit her down again (if she is unable to walk) make sure she is resting on the opposite hind leg to the one she was laid on before. Remember that down cows get muscle damage and infections that mean they may not be able to recover. Have a chat with your vet if you are not sure what to do, we are happy to help. Down cows are a welfare issue, they take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes the kindest thing is to put them down or to petfood them if you are busy and they are not responding to treatment.

Date Added: Wednesday, 1st July 2020