Ask the Vet

Good Outcome Rare With a Down Cow

Young, nursing cows have high nutritional needs which, when not met, can lead to poor body condition, which will make it difficult to successfully treat many illnesses. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Russ Quinn)

Question: I had a young cow that had been poor for a while but never really appeared sick. She had a young calf. I found her down in the pasture one day. She could not get up. We tried lifting her, but she would not stand. Do you have any idea what could have been wrong with her?

Answer: Young cows that are nursing have very high nutritional needs. They are still growing, trying to make enough milk and hopefully getting ready to breed back in two or three months after calving. You must be sure these special-needs animals are getting adequate energy, protein and minerals.

Be on the lookout for intestinal parasites that suck nutrients and can compound any nutritional issues. If infestation is severe enough, anemia can result.

Mineral nutrition is also key. If mineral nutrition is not adequate, milk fever (low calcium) and/or grass tetany (low magnesium) can lead to a down cow.

There are many diseases that can lead to weight loss. Anaplasmosis, for example, can result in severe anemia and weight loss, and is probably more common in the fall of the year. Leptospirosis or ingestion of toxins, such as those that can cause acorn poisoning, can lead to liver or kidney disease, weight loss, weakness and eventually death.

I will not lead you down the garden path. A down cow in poor body condition is tough to treat. But with cows worth as much as they are, you really should have a veterinarian examine any down cow as soon as possible. The longer a cow is down, the harder it is to get her up. Some problems respond well to early treatment. So the key thing here is not to wait. Having your veterinarian examine this cow, pastures, your nutritional program and overall herd-health care may help you avoid similar problems in the future.

(VM/CZ)