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Dealing with Downers

May 5, 2014
By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today Editor
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Every farm should have a team of four individuals who can be called upon on a few minutes’ notice to move a down cow.  

These protocols can help

Down cows happen. It doesn’t matter if you have 300 cows or 3,000 cows, down cows happen.

The problem is that cows can go down anywhere—in tie stalls, in freestalls, in milking parlors, in exit lanes, in foot baths, in loading chutes.

At some point, you have to deal with this reality. The critical issue is how you deal with it. What is acceptable, humane handling and what is out of bounds?

Mike Costin, a professional services veterinarian with Animart, has done a fairly exhaustive review of existing veterinary literature on the handling of down cattle. He found little guidance outside of generalities.

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En Espanol, Link to additional protocols

So he, along with Kurt Vogel, a dairy scientist at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, set out to establish specific protocols for dealing with down cows. (Vogel received his Ph.D. under Temple Grandin, the renowned animal-welfare specialist.)

First and foremost, these protocols will serve only as templates. Farms must develop their own protocols specific to their dairies because no two facilities are alike, Costin says.

You’ll need to walk the facility with your veterinarian and identify problem areas, he says. Then you and your veterinarian will need to write specific protocols for each potential situation you might face.

Every farm should identify a downer cow team. "It takes a team of individuals to move a 1,500-lb. cow," Costin says. So every farm should have a team of four individuals identified per shift who can be called upon on a few minutes’ notice to move the animal.

"These should be long-term, trustworthy employees who have at least a year of employment at your farm," Costin says. The team should include at least one shift supervisor or manager who is calm and has decision- making authority.

"Moving a down cow is not a spectator sport. Only members of the down cow team need to be present," Costin says. Having others present adds to safety concerns for both the animal and employees, and increases the risk of having someone videotape the proceedings.

Team members should be trained in proper animal-handling techniques. Hip hoists, for example, can be used to help an animal stand. But they should not be used to move animals. For that, use a sling that supports the animal both front and rear.

If a sling isn’t practical, animals should be rolled onto sleds and moved slowly to a recovery area. Rolling animals into front-loader buckets is acceptable, as long as the buckets are large enough to accommodate the animal. Some producers have dedicated buckets, equipped with rubber mats, which are used only for transport of down cattle.

The last resort, if an animal can’t be humanely moved, is euthanasia. But protocols should clearly spell out who has the authority to make the euthanasia decision, who should do it and how it should be done. Even after euthanasia, the animal should be treated with respect. "It does make a difference," Costin says.

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FEATURED IN: Dairy Today - May 2014
RELATED TOPICS: Dairy, Herd Health, Animal Welfare

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