Dairy Cattle

Downer Cows

The care and treatment of a downer cow should be a high priority. Early treatment can significantly improve response rates and minimize lost production and treatment costs.
There are many causes for downer cows:


Metabolic causes are the most common:
• Milk fever (low calcium)
• Grass Staggers (low magnesium )
• Ketosis (Slow fever) (low energy )


Mastitis, especially  black/gangrenous mastitis (Staph. Aureus or E. coli)
Metritis ( uterine infection)
Calving Paralysis / Dislocated hips / Back injury
Diarrhoea / salmonella
Other diseases (less commonly) Pneumonia, hydrops, facial eczema, gut twist

The majority of downer cows occur within 1-2 weeks pre or post calving. Treat uncomplicated cases with at least 1 bottle of Calcium Borogluconate (40%) intravenously and one under the skin. Administering calcium under the skin only in these cows is often in-sufficient to raise calcium levels adequately to allow the cow to stand. Check the cows for any other complications (i.e. Calving) to explain why she went down. Most cows should respond from a simple milk fever within 1 to 2 hours. Under-treatment is a common cause of poor recovery rates.

Please ask us about the new Calcium boluses we have as an aid to controlling milk fever in at risk cows.

Basic nursing care of downer cows is essential. Lift downer cows from cold, water logged pastures and place them on dry ground with some shelter or move them indoors. Also use of a cow cover to maintain core body temperature will aid recovery. The longer a cow is down the poorer her chances of getting up. Muscle damage especially to the hind legs can occur within 6 hours of her being down. Moving the cow from side to side will improve blood flow and reduce pressure on the affected leg. A blood sample to check the degree of muscle damage in cows down for 2-7 days will help indicate her chances of recovery.
Hip lifters can be useful in the first 36 hours especially when the cow is cold and wet. The legs are often numb and the use of hip lifters to support weight can greatly assist in returning circulation for these cows. Hip lifters should be used for a short time (5 minutes) to assess the cows ability to stand. In cases with calving paralysis we recommend the use of cow slings to support cows for longer periods.
To prevent dehydration and making muscle damage worse ensure at least 30-50 litres of water are available each day. If the cow is not drinking get your vet to stomach tube her with electrolytes which will rapidly re hydrate these cows.
Each clinical case of milk fever is often the tip of the ice berg indicating another 15-20 subclinical cases in your herd. If you are seeing more than a few cases, or getting more slow calvings or retained foetal membranes, please consult your us to check pre or post calving calcium and magnesium blood levels and further investigate other management strategies.