If your cow has fallen and can’t get up, your first thought may be to wonder how to get a down cow up, but you may be surprised to know that getting the cow up is not always the right thing to do. In fact, getting her up may be your last resort. In this article, we discuss assessment and management of down cows. We also provide sound advice on how to get your down cow up if that is the best thing to do. Read on to learn more on how to get a down cow up & more.
What You'll Learn Today
Why Do Cows Go Down?
There are a number of reasons why a cow might go down and be unable to get up again on her own. Among them are:
- Metabolic malfunction
- Infectious disease
- Severe mastitis (e.g. if you don’t milk your cow as often as you should)
- Difficult calving
- Nerve damage
- Bone fractures
- Muscle tears
- Milk fever
Any of these problems can occur at any time, even on a well-managed farm. That’s why it is important to have a firm plan in place for down cow assessment and management, and you must make sure that everyone on the farm knows about this plan and is able to help carry it out.
What Should You Do About It?
If you find your down cow on a hard surface, such as concrete, you must move her to a pen or stall equipped with a deep bed of fresh, dry straw.
If she remains on hard ground or concrete, she will develop even more muscle and tissue damage from the pressure caused by her weight on the unforgiving surface.
Naturally, a cow who cannot get up or move on her own must be protected from the weather, from predators and from other cattle.
Just like a person, she is more likely to recover well if she is kept in a safe, quiet place with fresh feed and water within her reach at all times.
How Do You Move A Down Cow?
Moving a down cow is not easy. You’ll need to have proper equipment, plenty of manpower and knowledge of correct technique to do it correctly.
The best piece of equipment you can use to move a down cow is a skid steer or tractor with a bucket large enough to hold a cow with no body parts hanging over the edges.
To lift a down cow with a skid steer bucket, you should lower the bucket to the ground and move it close to the cow.
Be careful not to get it so close that you lacerate or pinch her skin. It should just be near enough for you to maneuver her into the bucket.
Put her halter on and guide her head back toward the most convenient (usually top) back leg. Tie head to leg using a quick-release knot. This will help prevent her struggling and becoming injured.
With the assistance of a helper, carefully roll the cow into the bucket. Tip the bucket backwards and proceed slowly to the safe area you have prepared for the cow.
If you don’t have a bucket, you can use a sled. Just put the sled right next to the cow, tie head and leg as described above, and roll the cow onto the sled. Then you can pull the sled to the safe area with a tractor.
When performing either of these tasks, be sure you have enough help. You’ll need two people to roll the cow and to move along with the sled or bucket to prevent her struggling and falling or slipping off. You’ll need a third person to drive the skid steer or tractor.
Check On Them Frequently
Once you have your down cow in a safe place to recover, you’ll need to check her and reposition her every 4-6 hours.
Many down cows want to just lie on one side continuously, but this is not conducive to recovery.
Staying in one position causes muscle and tissue damage, and if a cow stays on her side, she may regurgitate and then aspirate fluid.
Try to roll her up onto her sternum so that her body is in an upright position, even if she is not standing on her legs. This will encourage her organs to work properly as she recovers.
Roll her so that the pressure on her legs is switched every few hours. Failure to do so can cause a lot of damage to her legs and may even cripple her.
How Do You Get A Down Cow Up?
With correct rest and care (as determined by conferring with your vet) your down cow may recover and get up on her own within a few days. If not, your vet may recommend the use of a hip lift to help promote standing.
It is important to understand that a hip lift should only be used to help encourage the animal to stand.
Short sessions with the hip lift a couple of times a day will help promote good blood circulation and encourage movement of the legs, which will work to prevent muscle atrophy.
A hip lift should never be used for long periods of time to force a cow to stand because she may end up just hanging from the lift, and this could do a lot of damage to her hip bones.
When your cow is in the hip lift, you should stay close by in case she becomes distressed. Release her from the lift within an hour.
It is also very important to understand that the hip lift is for standing only. It should never be used as a means of moving a down cow from one place to another. Using it in this way could severely injure your cow.
How Can You Prevent Down Cow Syndrome?
Begin by making sure your facilities are safe. If your floors are slippery, treat them with a non-skid substance to prevent falls and injuries of both cows and people.
Make sure your loading ramps are not too steep or too slippery. They should have good guard rails to prevent falls while loading and unloading cattle. When you ship cattle out, don’t overload the truck.
Examine your cattle daily and look for signs of distress that may mushroom into problems that will down your cow.
Pay special attention to cows who have given birth recently because many of the problems that cause down cow are associated with calving.
Be sure that everyone on your farm knows what to look for in signs and symptoms of illness in cattle.
Have a firm plan in place for dealing with down cows, and make sure that everyone involved knows what needs to be done and can do their part quickly.
Following these precautions will help you prevent problems with down cows. Quick action in the event a cow does go down greatly increases her chances of recovering and getting back up.
Frequently Asked Questions
You must help a downed cow shift positions at least three times a day to prevent pressure on the lower legs. Shift them from side-to-side several times a day.
It’s best to shift the cow an odd number of times so that she will not end up lying on the same leg two nights in a row.
It’s possible for a cow to recover from whatever ails her and rise again even after a couple of weeks have passed. Keep a close eye on your downed cow. As long as she remains alert, eats and drinks regularly and tries to get up on her own from time-to-time, there’s still hope.
Of course, it’s best to have your vet come out and euthanize your downed cow if that becomes necessary. If this is not possible, a clean gunshot to the center of the cow’s forehead, fired from 2-3 feet away can work. It’s best to use a .32 to .45 caliber handgun and a solid bullet. Only do this if you really know what you are doing.
Draw two imaginary (or actual) lines. They should run from the outside corner of one eye to the base of the opposite horn. Where the lines cross is the correct spot for a clean shot directly to the cow’s brain. Proper placement is of the utmost importance in delivering quick, efficient euthanasia that avoids distress and pain.