Milk Fever

So Rosemary, our Dexter cow, developed milk fever (hypocalcemia) last evening.  At 6 PM I had noticed her standing a little stiff on her back legs, but she was also still passing her placenta so I thought it might be related to that.  It also cross my mind maybe it was a back issue with the delivery.  I did try to give her CMPK (a calcium supplement) in case it was calcium, but I was by myself and could not get her to take it.  She ate some grain and then laid down.  I had been focusing on getting the calf Marjoram to nurse.  I finally was able to with Rosie laying down.

The at 9PM Tom went on the barn check for baby lambs and kids and found Rosie down.  She was on her side, bloated, breathing very hard, and grinding her teeth.  She was minimally responsive, no purposeful movements, and her eyes were bugged out.  She looked like she would die any minute.  Tom got me, I took the cooking dinner out of the oven (it had already been a long day), and we called the vet to come.  We gave her the ketogel and the CMPK.  We got her on her sternum, and she started releasing gas.  She could not hold her head up so we did that for her.  Her bloat improved, but she continued to breathe hard and grind her teeth.  Tom checked her uterus, and there was nothing in it (no other calf).  The placenta had come out and seemed fine, no odor.

The vet came and assessed her.  One thing we learned with hypocalcemia is the peripheral circulation shuts down and their ears become cold which hers were.  She had a slight fever but he thought her uterus was fine too.  So he started IV CMPK through the jugular vein but had to give it slowly to prevent a cardiac arrest.  He listened to her heart during the process, and we timed the infusion with our watches.  She finished the first bottle and her tooth grinding improved.  She received a bottle of hypertonic IV fluids and then another 1/2 bottle of the CMPK.  At the point her breathing had improved.  During the infusion I did get the calf to nurse while Rosie was laying somewhat on her side for the neck access.  We then propped Rosie up sternal again with a straw bale to keep her up.  She could hold her head up but still was not interested in eating or drinking.  Here she is at roughly this point.

Rosy down


We escorted the vet (Dr. Jake Searle of Chuckanut Valley Veterinary Clinic– great vet clinic!) back to his truck, picked up the used supplies and went into the house to cook and eat our dinner around 12:30 AM.  It was Moroccan Chicken and Carrots from the recent Sunset magazine and was quite good.  But then we had to go back out to the barn.  At this time Rosie still was not standing but she drank quite a bit of water, still would not eat.  We turned her on her side and milked ~2 cups of colostrum from her and bottle fed the calf Marjie.  We then gave the calf 1 quart of whole milk that I concocted (thanks to Google) from our 1% milk and cream we had in the house.  She reluctantly took the bottle.

Marjie being bottle fedBy 4AM Rosie was standing up.  She still is not drinking or eating much.  So now the risks are that her hypocalcemia could recur or the calf could starve or get an infection from not getting enough colostrum in the first hours of life.  So today’s tasks will be to get some alfalfa hay and more CMPK gel for Rosie and get her to take them and to continue to try to get Marjie to nurse and/or bottle feed.  Wish us luck!


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11 Responses to Milk Fever

  1. Krista says:

    Oh Donna, so sorry to hear about mom and calf. Why is it we are having such rough kidding and calving issues these last couple years? I wish I had the magic secret, but not at my place either. Have worked extra hard to feed and keep all animals super healthy through the winter and have had my share of kidding issues this year. Not fair, and I have great empathy for you, as I know exactly how exhausting spring time birthing on the farm is. I hope that you get some much deserved rest later today and that mom and baby pull through.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Krista! This year’s kidding and lambing is going well so far, last year was a mess for them. But we have never had calving problems before. This was quite an eye-opener. I actually fed the ewes and does a little less this year since large babies have been a problem of mine. Seems to have worked so far. I know your spring has been rough. It is hard birthing these babies!

  2. margaret says:

    hope your cow is ok!

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Margaret! She is doing better but not great today. She is eating some of the alfalfa and drinking some. She is standing periodically and does not seem weak, stiff or twitchy. Her ears are warm. Hopefully she will not relapse.

  3. Tammy says:

    What a rough night. I’m glad you were able to get the vet out and get Rosie back on track. Hopefully she will continue to improve. Marjie will probably be fine. You did get some colostrum in her and sometimes they are tougher than we think they will be. Praying that she thrives.


    • Donna says:

      Thanks Tammy! I am really glad we discovered her before it was too late. If we had left her in the pasture like we usually do we would not have found her until morning. Marjie seems to be doing fine so hopefully Rosie can make enough milk for her. Do not want a bottle baby.

  4. mcfwriter says:

    Wow, this sounds hellish. I’m so glad you had her in the barn and Tom found her when he did. Sending good thoughts your way for a full recovery.

    • Donna says:

      It was Maureen! I am thankful that we found and treated her in time. This morning she looks good. She is finishing her hay and water and standing a lot more. The calf is looking frisky too. It looks like they may survive the ordeal. now it is another deluge though so we’ll probably keep them in the barn another day. The cow is probably going a little barn crazy.

  5. Brandy says:

    Hope she pulls through ok! I have only ever had birth complications with horses, having to pull a foal or two, but I was really lucky with my Jersey cow each year. Sorry things are going so rough for ya and your momma cow, glad to hear that baby is doing better as well.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Brandy! She id doing great and we are talking about moving them back out to the pasture today. It is more common we have problems with lambing and kidding. But I did have to pull a calf once, quite an experience. This was also a tremendous learning experience, especially since this can happen to sheep and goats too.

  6. Pingback: Calving | Schoonover Farm Blog

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