Don’t let a down cow get you down

Don’t let a down cow get you down

22 May 2019

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Around calving time, down cows are an unfortunate inevitability. So it’s important to allocate sufficient time to attend to down cows and use your senses - observe, listen, smell and touch - to help you decide on the cause.

Remember there can be multiple reasons a cow is down, from milk fever to a broken leg. If in doubt, call the vet out.

Some of the most common causes of a downer cow, and the signs to look for, are:

  • Metabolic disease – such as milk fever or grass staggers.
  • Other mineral deficiency – sometimes phosphorus can be a complicating factor in metabolic diseases; seek veterinary advice.
  • Injuries - such as calving paralysis, muscle or nerve injuries or possibly fracture and dislocations.
  • Other illnesses - for instance mastitis, metritis (womb infection), or salmonellosis


Down cows should be a priority no matter what else is happening on-farm. If treatable, an early response will ensure a better outcome. The treatment strategy used will depend on the cause of recumbency, for example, whether or not she has calved. If she is straining after calving there may be a twin. If it is a metabolic disease, such as milk fever or grass staggers, appropriate metabolic treatment will need to be administered. And, regardless of the cause, proper management of the cow’s basic needs is essential in all cases.


Never underestimate the importance of good management of a downer cow. Not only is this vital in terms of animal welfare, but good management and support will also greatly assist in a quick and successful recovery of the cow with fewer potential complications. Some key points to consider are:

  • Positioned correctly – if she is on her side, get the cow quickly sitting upright, especially if she’s bloated (the gas will release). Check for rumen juice on the ground in front of her nose or in the nose; if present or if the cow is groaning, call a vet.
  • Shelter – if the weather is windy, cold or wet, carry the cow inside. If the cow needs to be transported, use an appropriate method and make sure the cow is adequately restrained. Never use hip clamps to move a cow. If relocation of the cow is not possible, build a wall of bales to block the wind and cover the cow with a tarpaulin. Use loose hay or straw as insulation.
  • Water – always have available a suitable container of clean water within reach of the cow. Make a wide, shallow water container out of a barrel which is easier for her to access and more stable.
  • Food – give supplementary feed like hay, silage or grain, supply fresh feed daily.
  • Comfort – use straw or hay as bedding if the cow is on hard ground. If she’s on concrete, sprinkle sand down first.
  • Release milk – relieve pressure in the udder by hygienically milking out some milk into a bucket, not on to the ground. Always check for signs of mastitis.
  • Remember the three Ms – move cow from one side to the other, manipulate the legs to massage the muscles, monitor progress.

If no day-to-day improvement is seen, call a vet.


Prevention is always preferable to treatment so it is important to put a plan in place now to ensure your cows are in ideal condition and getting the right minerals heading into calving and also that the environment they are calving down onto is managed best as possible to reduce the chance of infection or injury.

To view training videos on metabolic treatment strategies, administration techniques, symptoms and much more, head to You Tube and search ‘Bayer NZ down cow’.

For more information on down cow management talk to your local TSR or visit your Farm Source store.

Article supplied by Bayer