How to Prevent and Treat Milk Fever in Cows


Bobbi PetersonMilk fever, also called hypocalcaemia, occurs primarily in dairy cows, but it can occur in any kind of cow or other mammals around calving or birthing. It’s the result of the milk draining too much calcium out of the cow’s blood, causing the muscles to stop working properly. Most often you won’t know it’s a danger until you find the cow already down. Knowing how to prevent it and what to do if it occurs is vital information for any farmer.

Causes and Symptoms

Milk fever is a readily treatable condition, but it’s important to seek help quickly. Without proper treatment, milk fever can lead to death. Essentially, when the cow is close to calving, the body draws excess calcium from the blood in order to produce more milk. When too much calcium is taken, it causes the cow’s muscles to stop functioning properly. This leads to the most common sign of milk fever: a downed cow.

Often the cow is either close to calving or has calved in the past day. When a cow is found down, do what you can for them. Protect them from the elements as best you can and observe them to see if you can make a solid determination of milk fever.

Stages of Milk Fever

The signs you’ll need to look for will be subtle, because going down close to calving time is the main one. If you can catch it early, you can minimize the risk to the cow and future calves. At first, the cow will seem “off.” She’s likely to be easily spooked or excitable. This stage only lasts for about an hour, so it’s easy to miss. It’s important to trust your intuition and to know your animals.

The second stage is more easily observed, as the cow will become increasingly distressed. She may continually turn her head toward her flank and develop an unsteady gait. Constipation and a low temperature are also common. Most cows have a healthy temperature around 101.5 degrees, but a cow with milk fever will have a temperature between 96-100 degrees. She will likely also seem weak and lethargic and have a cold nose and ears.

The third stage is when you need to act quickly. This is when the cow goes down, and the heart rate becomes fast and weak. Without fast treatment, the cow may become comatose and can die.

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