Get on top of down cows

Get on top of down cows

28 May 2020

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Around calving time, down cows are an unfortunate inevitability. 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 are:

Metabolic disease - such as milk fever or grass staggers.

Other mineral deficiency - sometimes phosphorus (P) 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. 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:

Correct position - if she is on her side, quickly get the cow 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 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 - each day give supplementary fresh feed like hay, silage, or grain.

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 the cow from side to side during the day, so she is not continually lying in the same position; manipulate her legs to help massage the muscles and maintain circulation; 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. Getting the right minerals into your cows as they head into calving, and having a well-maintained, hygienic and safe environment are important to reduce the chance of infection or injury.

To view training videos on metabolic treatment strategies, administration techniques, symptoms and much more, head to YouTube and search 'Bayer NZ down cow'. Also look out for the July Enrich for more on metabolic treatment.

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

Article supplied by Bayer