The Trouble With Cows

Since the lambing went so smoothly this spring, the cows decided to step up to the plate and keep us stressed and busy. In early April, Clementine, who is our one Guernsey and our largest cow, was discovered during morning chores to be unable to stand. If you know anything about cows, that should strike fear into your heart. (Ok, maybe not fear, but cows that can’t stand up typically don’t recover).

We tried various methods to induce her to stand that morning, and she tried, but couldn’t get even half-way to her feet. It appeared that her hind legs were too weak to hold her weight. We then talked to a neighboring dairy farmer who suggested calcium injections and allowed us to borrow his hip clamp and cattle prod. The thing is, she was late lactation, being milked once daily, with no dietary changes, and due to calve in July, so the likelyhood of her predicament being of metabolic origin was low, meaning the calcium wasn’t likely to help. We tried it anyway, as we were getting desparate. It had no effect other than making her nervous about my coming near her. She also was perky, with a good appetite, so not sick. Her wooden manger had been busted up, so my theory was that she had slipped in her urine and manure that she likes to spread over her stall floor, making it too slippery for her to grip with her hooves, and therefore injuring herself in her attempts to rise. Anyway, we tried lifting her with the hip clamp, which hooks around the cows’ protruding hip bones, but she wouldn’t even try to put her feet under her once lifted, and just acted stressed. We finally bedded her deeply with dry hay, in as open of an area as we could get her(not very open, unfortunately, as she weighs at least 1000 lbs and together we weigh less than 300, so it was impossible for us to move her far), and let her relax and eat. She was acting very strange that evening, and we expected to find her dead in the morning. It was an absolutely awful day, and we dreaded to go to the barn next morning, afraid our beautiful cow would be dead.

The following morning she looked good! Not up, but perky and not dead!! We spent some time lifting her with the hip clamp that day also, but she would never even try to stand when we got her hind end up. It seemed that the clamp was hurting her instead of helping. After a couple attempts, we decided to just keep her bedded and fed well and see what happened. This goes against all professional advice, since a cow loses muscle mass and circulation rapidly once down for longer than 24 hrs. They recommend lifting daily to allow blood to circulate through their limbs. Clementine was regularly switching the hip she was lying on, so that seemed hopeful to us. She also continued to eat, drink, and poop somewhat normally.

I finally thought to look on the Keeping a Family Cow forum, to see what other people had experienced and tried with down cows in situations more like ours. Most of the accounts ended in tragedy, but there were a few incredible stories of cows down for weeks who got up on their own eventually. That gave us more hope. I talked to the vet after she was down for 5 or 6 days, and he suggested Banamine, which is a pain killer and anti-inflammatory. He also gave her a 10% chance of getting up.

By then, she had scooted herself down the whole length of the barn and was in an area of deep pack bedding where we had had sheep. That gave her a more comfortable bed, and better grip under her hooves since she couldn’t slide the bedding away from under her in her attempts to rise. I learned to hate concrete as barn floors during this time, as the slippery, hard concrete was such a hindrance to her recovery. We checked her multiple times a day, helping her keep out of corners and other problematic places. We had some cold, wet wind one night, so I covered her with a large blanket to keep her from becoming chilled. She thought that was a super weird thing for me to do to her, but it stopped her shivering!

After giving her the Banamine, she was noticeably trying harder to stand. She almost made it up a few times, but her front legs would give out when she tried to get them under her. Eight days after she went down, she finally made it up on all four legs! She was super weak, so I helped stabilize her for a little while, to keep her from just falling over. Once she was standing, it was clear that the original cause of her problem was an injury. Her hocks were very swollen and she wouldn’t put weight on one of her hind legs. She was clearly so happy to be up, and once she stood for some time, she started walking around the barn. Once it was clear she was steady on her feet, we gently led her outside to a dirt paddock to get her off that concrete. She got tired and laid down again for a while, but she was able to stand up later, albeit, clumsily. I can’t describe the relief we felt that day.

She had clearly lost quite a bit of muscle mass during her convalescence, but regained condition steadily with good feed and her recovered ability to walk around! Her limp disappeared completely in less than a week, and other than a small scab on one side where the hip clamp pinched her, you wouldn’t know anything had happened to her!

Oh, and, she had had mastitis that I was treating when she went down, so that certainly didn’t help anything!

While we were worried about Clementine, Bessie, our Jersey cow, decided she needed to get some attention beyond once-daily milking, and tore the tip of her left front teat nearly off. The injury thankfully didn’t cross the teat orifice, but it was very close. There was a nasty flap, and a big scab, so we picked up teat dilators to remove the milk from that quarter, since milking by machine or hand were either impossible or very unpleasant. After a week and a half or so, the injury had healed enough for me to milk her by hand, but now she had mastitis in that quarter. I removed the flap of skin, treated her with clay(which had no effect), and then with Pirsue(which knocked out the mastitis), and after waiting for the antibiotics to leave her system we were finally able to milk that quarter with the machine and drink the milk! It has been about three weeks since she first injured herself! Her teat isn’t fully healed yet, but the scab doesn’t crack and ooze, and everything is healing smoothly now.

We sure missed having her milk on those days we had to dump it due to the antibiotic treatment, and realized we don’t ever want to take a complete break from milking our cows. Not having dairy products isn’t worth the free time. Although, we are enjoying only milking one cow, once-a-day right now. It sure makes our evenings more flexible!

Next month Daisy(Bessie’s daughter) is due to have her first calf, so we’ll be back to making all the dairy products again. We miss having copious dairy options, such as cream, creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt, kefir, fresh cheeses, and, of course, the endless fresh, creamy, delicious milk. No, we are not fat(the work with the animals keeps us trim!), but I would say we are dairy addicts. There are worse things to be, I guess!

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