Down Cow: A cow that is unable to stand on her own.
September 11, 2014 our cow 7 year old milk cow went down with milk fever & was unable to stand on her own. Milk fever is a calcium deficiency which is easily fixed when given calcium in liquid form though an IV. Several days earlier she gave birth to a bull calf. The combination of the delivery (sore muscles) and milk fever kept her from being able to stand up on her own. She was very weak in her back legs from her hips down. A cow has to be able to put weight on their back legs in order to stand up fully. She was unable to do so.
Later that afternoon, I walked to the back of the farm and came across my farmer tucking her in for the night. The boys were helping him make sure she had food and fresh water.
The next morning she had moved herself around trying to stand on her own. She was perky, eating well, drinking plenty of water and even feeling well enough to take a selfie.
So we began the process of tending to her every need. There is a list of things that need to be done when a cow is down:
- Get her on her feet as soon as possible. The longer the cow is down, the higher chance she has of never getting up again.
- Make sure she is comfortable.
- Make sure she is in an area that she cannot hurt herself if she tries to stand unsuccessfully on her own.
- Make sure she has access to plenty of food & fresh water.
- Make sure that she continues to be milked. If the cow dries herself off, especially after just having a calf. She will most likely be sold as a cull cow instead of staying in the milking herd. A cull cow is a cow that is sold as beef & is primarily a hamburger cow. Of course this would only be if she stood again. Animals that are unable to stand on their own are not allowed to enter the food supply. They have to be put down and disposed of.
- Make sure to lift her at least once every day. Now how do you lift an animal that is over 1,000 pounds?
- It requires a tractor and a pair of hip lifts. The metal device (hip lifts) attaches to the hip bones of the cow. They are then attached to a chain that is attached to the loader bucket on our tractor. We gently raise the loader bucket, thus allowing her backside to raise into the air helping her stand.
In addition, I had been wanting to try massage therapy on one of our girls. The time had come, so I began the process of massaging her back, hips, legs as well as her head. She didn’t know what to think at first but quickly realized that she liked it. She would close her eyes and rest her head when I massaged behind her ears. She had a knot on her left back leg so I focused on that even applying muscle cream to help with her sore muscles. On top of all of that, Sara, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin contacted me regarding acupressure.
I gave her one treatment of acupressure that same day. The next few days she only improved from there.
So, I am not going to lie, hand milking a cow (especially a Holstein cow) is not something that is an easy task. I milked her, farmer milked her and our employee milked her. We could not keep hand milking her. So, we improvised.
Her calf did an excellent job.
We were excited to see nothing but improvement. There were even several late nights of working with her as we were also finishing up our third cutting silage.
One day she acted like she just wanted to give up. She didn’t want to stand, she didn’t want to even try. Farmer decided that after all the time we had spent trying to make her better it was time to put her down. We had spent so much time (time as a family) working on helping her gain her strength to stand again. I was devastated, our family was devastated.
The next morning I went out to find her sitting up, perky with fresh water and food in front of her. Farmer couldn’t do it. He couldn’t pull the trigger. She was not suffering. He told me he went out to do it, he walked around the corner to see her sitting there looking straight at him and he just couldn’t do it.
Instead of putting her down, he gave her food and water. She wasn’t suffering, just didn’t want to try to stand any longer. So that day, we kept up with our routine. Feed, water, feed, water, clean up her manure, give her new bedding and later that day we got the tractor to help her stand.
She stood. Once we used the tractor and hip lifts to get her on her feet, she stood. Her bull calf drank. She stood. We were so beyond excited. I massaged her some more. We let her down. We just knew she was going to be walking soon.
The next day she stood again but also tried to walk on her own!
Then what we least expected happened. She started dropping weight. Within 24 hours, she had lost quite a bit of weight. She was still eating and drinking but her health was rapidly declining. By the next day, she was in pain.
Farmer made the call to put her down. It was the most humane thing we could do for her. We never want any of our animals to ever suffer. As much as we loved her, as much time as we had spent with her for the past five years… the last two weeks. It had to be done.
Our entire family was devastated.
Although this story doesn’t have the ending I would have liked, there is something important that was taught to my children. They were taught love and respect for animals. My children were taught that life doesn’t always go as planned. They were taught about loss of life. They saw their parents work hard to save a life, cry when that life was gone and they know what true compassion looks like.