Downer cows – the bane of spring

No matter how well the process of calving goes we always end up with a myriad downer cows, the bane of spring. They represent a lot of cost, effort and wastage.

However, it is important to get the diagnosis right. Not all downer cows are due to metabolic issues. The list of downer cows includes broken hips or femurs (the thigh bone), calving paralysis, dead calves still inside (I have calved a cow that had been calved 10 days!), uterine infections post calving, acute mastitis etc. These cows will not respond to metabolic treatment.

So, in reality, the specific metabolic cause of downer cows is hard to diagnose. It may be a calcium or magnesium issue or a combination of both. Phosphate may complicate the issue along with an energy deficiency. It is no wonder then that there are so many mixed-solution treatment options on the market.

In an ideal world, more downer cows would be blood sampled before treatment. While this may not be practical, sampling some of them is a method to determine if there are any trends occurring. So which cows to sample? A rough guideline could be:

  • If you get more than three downer cows in one day, blood sample them all before treatment and bring the samples to us.
  • If you get more than three downer cows that do not get up in one week, you could either blood test them 24 hours after the last treatment or use them as a trigger to take samples pre-treatment from other downer cows.

Temperature is an important diagnostic tool in determining a cow`s health.  A temperature of 38.0 – 38.8 is generally normal for a cow. Anything above that and the signs are there that an infection is present and needs an appropriate treatment. Below 38.0 and the prognosis for recovery becomes more guarded, with temperatures below 37.5 indicating a very hypothermic (cold) cow. Do not underestimate the value of warm fluid therapy. We see cows with temperatures of 36.5 degrees and they are invariably dying. Euthanasia may be warranted in these cases.

Hopefully though, you are seeing few downer cows – but if you seem to be going through a lot more treatments than you would expect, then do not hesitate to give us a call. Possibly a pre-calving blood test might reveal mineral levels that, if rectified, could alleviate the epidemic you may be experiencing. When you experience an excessive percentage of downer cows over spring, preventative management is important and doable. Ask us, and we can assist you with a programme for your herd.