September 6, 2008

"Downer cows" need urgent help

It can be a frightening experience to find a cow lying on the ground and unable to get up. Veterinarians talk about a "down cow" which can be raised with assistance, and a "downer cow" is one which cannot be raised.

To farmers these are both "downer" cows, and in any case when you phone the veterinarian you won't be able to tell the difference. Timing is vital as if a cow doesn't make an attempt to get up unaided after 5 minutes, then veterinary help is essential. A cow that cannot get up after 4 hours is in serious trouble.

There are many reasons why a cow may be down. If she has had a difficult calving then you'd suspect serious nerve damage causing paralysis of her back legs. Other main causes are metabolic diseases caused by low magnesium (grass staggers), low calcium (milk fever) or low glucose (ketosis). There can be a combination of two or more of these conditions to complicate matters.

Sometimes uterus infections (metritis) can overwhelm the cow and then the stress of being down can trigger metabolic diseases. Veterinarians can now do a blood test to predict a cow's chances of recovery and if her chances are low, then euthanasia is the kindest and most cost effective option.

So an accurate diagnosis in good time, will increase the chances of a successful outcome, provided that in the first instance you make sure the cow is protected from wind and rain. A light thermal blankets is ideal for this.

A paralysed cow needs careful nursing for if she's been down for a while, her body weight crushes the muscles and she may not be able to get back on her feet unaided. This will certainly be the case if she is heavily pregnant or very thin or weak after calving.

Hip clamps should not be used to get the cow up if there was a possibility of pelvic damage as a result of calving. So veterinary diagnosis of the cow's prospects is essential before using hip clamps.

If hip clamps are used, they should be used with padding and not so tightly applied that they cause damage to the hips, skin or pelvis. Hip clamps must be removed if the cow makes no attempt at bearing her own weight after 5 minutes.

Slings under the abdomen can be used for longer periods of time in an attempt to help the cow recover. You may need to use the hip clamps to lift the cow to get the sling under her, but make sure the cow in a sling can breathe freely and not suffer any unnecessary discomfort.

A cow must not be suspended in a sling for more than one hour at a time. The longer the cow is down, the less are her chances of recovery. It's an offence to let a cow suffer.

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