Down cow cases are particularly challenging because cows can find themselves in very tricky situations. These cows are sometimes are found in places where accessing them and moving them to a safe location can be difficult. Also, these cows in their attempt to rise can further injure themselves. Finally, sometimes these cases can disrupt the normal flow of the dairy, which is why these cases can be very frustrating to farm staff.
Recently, I attended a conference in Wisconsin that featured the care of the down cow. There, I took home that there are four things we must take care of in these situations.
1. The frustration of the people. Care on your behalf must be made so that your employees and management know how to properly address these situations. It is always beneficial to come up with a protocol in advance and review it with employees on a regular basis. It is never ok to intentionally injure a cow at any time, even if frustrated. Make this clear to your employees, for you as the owner are ultimately responsible for what happens on your dairy.
2. Moving the down cow safely. This is a challenge, but this can be done. Dragging a cow by the neck or limb out of a barn is not ok. This will cause significant skin abrasions, and remember, the skin is the largest organ in the cow and is the first defense of the immune system. Instead, roll the cow into a skid steer. The other option is to have a plywood sled ready to roll the cow onto. The sled can then be dragged with the cow on it by a skid loader, front loader, or tractor to where you would like her to be, all while protecting the cow from harm. For the cow that’s stuck under the freestall, she should be winched out, using a flat strap in front of her brisket to avoid skin injury. Then, the cow can either rise if she is able, now that she is no longer stuck, or she can be rolled onto the plywood to be taken out of the barn.
3. Caring for the down cow. Down cows should be put on dirt or sand – a forgiving surface with traction so that if they attempt to rise, they can stand if able while still not hurting themselves. Cows should have feed and water access at all times and should be protected from the elements (both sun and rain). Down cows should also be rotated every 8 hours from side to side. Cows are so massive and heavy that their weight will destroy the down leg’s muscles. In fact, that’s precisely why the longer they are down, the less likely they are to get up. If you don’t know why a cow is down, you should be calling your veterinarian. Guessing may cause you valuable time in making a diagnosis and ultimately, you will be doing your cow a disservice if you wait to treat her appropriately.
4. Know when to euthanize. Every cow is different in this instance. If you know why the cow is down and you have a good prognosis, it’s definitely worth the effort to save these individuals. However, allowing a cow to be in pain is never appropriate and using pain medication when possible (like Banamine IV) is warranted. If in doubt of whether the cow will respond to therapy, call your vet to discuss the case. He or she may be able to guide you as to whether you should try to continue. As a rule, if the cow has been down for 2-3 days or more, you should be considering euthanasia as an option.
If we at the VMC/PLS can help you troubleshoot these cases, please don’t hesitate to call us at 507-372-2957 or toll free at 1-800-522-3276.