This cow has been my main project today (besides laundry – and my own animals). She is due to calve in the next few weeks. The owners are out of town for the holidays, and have two high school teens feeding everything. for them. Wednesday morning they found her down behind the barn, and unable to stand. They came to my house to let me know. When I arrived, this is what I found. She was bright and alert, but trying to get up on her front legs. If you’ve ever watched a cow stand up from lying down, you will know that cattle stand up with their back legs first, then their front legs. So immediately I knew she had a hind limb problem.
The first thing I had to do was be sure she wasn’t in labor. She was not, so I needed to check for her due date. I was thinking she had a pinched nerve, possibly from the calf lying on a nerve. In order to get the swelling out of the nerve, I needed to give dexamethasone, which is a potent anti-inflammatory. BUT it can also cause the cow to go into labor. The second thing to worry about is pneumonia. Anytime an animal can’t get up, there is a major risk for pneumonia.
I spoke to the owners. The cow’s due date is within the next 2-3 weeks, so it is close enough to give the dexamethasone without risking a premature birth. I administered a very large dose of dexamethasone, along with a dose of antibiotics. Then I told the young men to call me that afternoon, and we would assess her once again after the medication had time to take effect.
Wednesday afternoon, I had 4 strong young men there to help, plus a tractor and some ropes. We were able to move her from one side to the other, allowing that down leg some relief. Then we rigged up a sling out of ropes and some sort of tow strap. We had to be sure to keep her level, and give her enough support to allow her to stand on her own.
It was a bit of a chore creating a sling without proper materials, but we managed. The forks on the tractor worked quite well for picking her up.
Once we got her back legs underneath her, she was able to bear weight. The back left leg seemed to be the one giving her the most trouble and she took a minute of leaning against the tractor to get a feel for it. We slowly let her hold her own weight.
We put a halter on her (she was a show cow as a young heifer) so that she wouldn’t try to walk off while we were removing all the ropes. She stood for a while, ate some grain and hay, and was balancing well. She didn’t attempt any steps, but did shift her weight from foot to foot.
We will see where she is Thursday morning. She may be back down, or she may be well. We will know in the morning!