'Another night call to a herd of overfat calvers'

File photo.

Just before I was about to retire to bed, one night recently I received a call from Enda, on of my clients, writes Paul Redmond.

He was perplexed by one of his cows. She was attempting to calve but, for some reason, there was nothing coming and, on handling the cow, he found the calf to be a long way in.

I headed out the road, wondering what might lie before me.

When I arrived, I put on my gear, including a disposable calving gown, and headed for the patient. Just as Enda had said, the calf seemed to be a long way back, and I noticed that the cow did not appear to be pushing, when I put my hand and arm into her.

A quick check of her appearance reassured me that this cow was suffering from milk fever. Cows can suffer from this in the immediate run up to calving and, even though they will start the initial phase of calving by opening up, they will not progress much further, so the calf ends up just lying there.

As time progresses, the oxygen supply diminishes, and the calf begins to struggle for life. If attention is not given promptly, then the calf will die.

In the case with Enda, we gave the cow a few bottles of calcium into the vein, and under the skin, and the calving was made easier, as the cow started to push her calf out, making my job easier.

During the following week, we had a number of similar calls out to Enda’s, with cows not calving, and others where the cow had gone down after calving.

On that first evening, I had pointed out to Enda that his cow looked to be overfat, with a body condition score (BCS) over 4.0. Taking a quick look at the nearby cows, I noted that they were all on the fat side.

The ideal body condition score for a Friesian cow at calving is 3.0 or 3.25, depending on which authority you read.

What is definite is that cows over this recommended score will tend to have a lot more milk fever and, as they progress into the lactation, they will tend to have more problems like displaced abomasums, retained after-births, ketosis etc.

So what are you to do, in a situation like Enda’s, where he is well in to the calving season.

You cannot scrape the fat layers off the cows that are due to calve. He can try to cut back on the level of feeding, but this will take a long while to get them back to the body condition score that is needed.

It may be a help for the ones that still have a bit to go, but he can also give them a calcium supplement when they are about to calve, and again after they calve.

A lot of farmers have yet to start calving. It would be a good idea to check the body condition score of their cows to make sure they are on target.

If you are unsure as to how to do this properly, do not be afraid to ask someone to help you.

Most vets are quite competent in doing body condition scoring and they will be only too glad to discuss your options, if the BCS is not optimum.

The starting points to rectify this problem for next year are to have a proper silage analysis (not a cheap version) done on your silage in the autumn, and to body condition score your cows at drying off.

Together with your vet, you can plan the dry cow nutrition so that your cows will calve down at the correct BCS, and you will avoid a lot of problems.

Paul Redmond, MVB, MRCVS, Cert DHH, Duntahane Veterinary Clinic, Fermoy, member practice of Prime Health Vets

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