DECIDING HOW long to persevere with downer cows will be a bigger issue once the over-30-month scheme ends because, as vet Paddy Gordon warns, producers may have to pay for casualty removal.

 “This means working to prevent downer cows and choosing which downer is likely to get up and maximise her chances,” says Mr Gordon, of Shepton Vet Group in Somerset.

 “Producers haven”t had to think about drug withdrawal periods for slaughter for 12 years. But there are now fewer large slaughterhouses and no demand for casualty cows.”

This, plus new farm assurance requirements for downer cow protocols, led Mr Gordon to draw up a written strategy for clients.

The key is to get a cow standing as soon as possible. “We know that muscle damage is more significant after six hours. The longer she is down, a cow gets weak and this lowers her chances of getting up.

 “A downer cow that isn”t making good progress is unlikely to get up. We typically see cows standing after 2-3 days – those that aren”t, are sent away after four days.”

Managing a downer cow is time consuming and producers stretched by other demands – more cows and fewer staff – need to identify which cows are worth persevering with.

 Mr Gordon believes more producers are preventing milk fever through diet management and says levels should be less than 5% of calving cows. However, downers still result from hard calvings or injuries in cubicles and yards.

“Dry yards can form a skim of slurry on top which is greasy, but spreading sand can help give grip and minimise cows falling,” he suggests.

 The strategy shows possible treatments and outcomes for downer cows caused by milk fever, a bad calving or injury. It also helps decide when vet attention is needed, as early intervention is more likely to result in a recovery.

 Cows treated for milk fever should stand after six hours. Animals still down but making good attempts to rise can have the treatment repeated, says Mr Gordon. Cows unable to rise need to be checked for injury, mastitis, temperature and appetite. “When anything is abnormal, producers should call their vet,” he adds.

 He also recommends downers are kept in a well-bedded area, fed and watered regularly and lifted or rolled.

 After a bad calving or a cubicle injury, cows should be standing within six hours. Bleeding from the vagina is a vet emergency. When a cow”s attempts to get up are poor or non-existent, Mr Gordon suggests a checklist of things to look out for.

Injuries or abnormalities in appetite and attitude, temperature, or mastitis – toxic cases lead to downer cows – also need vet attention.

 shirley.macmillan@rbi.co.uk

305 WORDS BOX DOWNER COWS * Prevent milk fever and injuries * Should rise in six hours * Early intervention more success BOX/PANEL