Farm advice: Add rolling to your down cow routine

Dairy NZ's Katherine DeWitt offers some techniques for managing down cows

Down cow care should include providing a dedicated nursing area

Calving is upon us and with it comes an increased risk of down cows. Living on-farm, I know first-hand how disappointing a down cow can be. It’s upsetting to see your cows unwell, which means putting other jobs on hold and can add a bit of stress to your day.

If down cows are not properly cared for, their chances of recovery are lower. So, delivering high standards of care for all down cows will increase your cows’ chances of recovery and ultimately reduce pressure on the farm team during an already busy time.

Providing shelter or a cover, easy to eat and reach food, water and pain relief are all part of a high standard of care. Rolling is another aspect you should add to your down cow care routine until your cow is ready to be lifted.

Risks of early lifting

Everyone wants to get a down cow back on her feet and returned to the herd as quickly as possible. However, lifting a cow before she’s ready to stand can do more harm than good. The wings of the pelvis, where hip lifters are attached, are not designed to bear the cow’s weight. A cow that isn’t prepared or able to hold her own weight is at risk of skin, muscle, and bone damage during lifting. 

Getting the right rolling technique

It’s important to note which leg a down cow is sitting on each time you check her. If she can’t swap sides, one back leg will take all the pressure from her body weight. This can reduce that leg’s circulation and lead to nerve and muscle damage. You’ll notice that if she tries to stand, the stronger leg will usually push her onto her weaker leg (the leg she always sits on), causing further damage.

If she cannot swap sides by herself, she needs to be rolled regularly onto her other side, especially if she’s trying to stand up. Down cows should be rolled two to four times a day, so it’s a good idea to have one team member responsible for keeping track of her care.

Cows that are lifted incorrectly or before they are ready to stand, can have a poorer chance of recovery than those who are not lifted. Only cows likely to be able to bear their own weight should be lifted. If in doubt, roll her instead of lifting – it takes less time and is less risky to the cow. 

For more information on down cow care, visit dairynz.co.nz/down-cows.

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