Milk Fever. No, it is not the intense craving you get for a glass of ice-cold milk or the belly ache you feel after competing in a milk drinking contest at the county fair. Milk fever is a metabolic disorder caused by a low blood calcium level and is common among cows who are close to calving or recently gave birth. We do our best to prevent the occurrence of milk fever, but occasionally it happens. In fact, it just happened yesterday.
Most cases occur within one day of calving because milk and colostrum production drain calcium (and other substances) from the blood, and some cows are unable to replace the calcium quickly enough. Other factors that put cows at risk for milk fever are:
- Age. Heifers are rarely affected. Older cows are at higher risk because they produce more milk and are less able to replace blood calcium.
- Size. Fat cows have higher feed and calcium intakes putting them at risk. That is why I always tell my pregnant cows to stay active while on maternity leave. I have been thinking about offering cow yoga to the girls, but I doubt it will go over well.
- Production. Cows that produce high yields of milk are likely to develop milk fever.
- Dry Cow Management. The feeding management of dry cows in the 2 weeks before calving is very important, because it affects both the amount of calcium available to replace blood calcium and the efficiency with which the available calcium can be used. We work closely with our nutritionist to formulate a specific ration to avoid milk fever.
We noticed 4054 was in labor and moved her into a calving pen. Old 4054 was a textbook case of a cow with milk fever; she is an older cow in her 5th lactation, a bit overweight, and was a high yielding milk producer last lactation. Like a said, a classic case. On her way to the calving pen she fell down and wasn’t able to get back up, a common sign of milk fever. Other signs include:
- cold ears
- low body temp
- muscle tremors
Luckily this disorder is easily treatable and we were prepared. My husband quickly began warming up a bottle of Calcium gluconate and prepared to IV the down cow. By administering calcium intravenously we were able to replace her blood calcium level and within minutes she was back on her feet. Cows normally respond to the treatment very quickly.
A couple of hours later 4054 gave birth to a healthy heifer calf and both are doing well today. I am happy my husband and I were able to help this momma and get her back to health. Cows truly are domestic creatures and it makes me happy knowing we have a great herd of cattle that trust us to care for them and help them when they need it.