Cows grazing

Milk fever is most common in older dairy cows but can also affect older beef cows (e.g. Fourth calvers or older).

Blood calcium concentration is maintained in a fine balance via various hormonal pathways, notably of parathyroid origin. A cow yielding 40 litres of milk daily suddenly requires an extra dietary intake of 80g calcium per day but these processes take 2-3 days to become fully active and if they fail, hypocalcaemia results. Older cows respond more slowly and are thus more prone to milk fever. Low magnesium status may also interfere with calcium control.

Clinical signs usually occur within 24 hours after parturition but can occur at or before calving, and in exceptional situations (often very high yielding cow during oestrus) several weeks/months after calving. The clinical signs progress over a period of 12 to 24 hours. There is teeth grinding and muscle tremors, stiff legs, straight hocks and “paddling” of the feet when standing during the early stages.

The clinical signs progress to muscle weakness and the cow lies down with a characteristic kink (“S-bend”) in her neck, later the head is held against the chest. Gut stasis causes bloat and constipation. Left untreated, the cow becomes comatose and lies on her side. Ruminal bloat and/or paralysis of respiratory muscles cause death in untreated cattle after 12-24 hours.

For more information please see full article on the NADIS website

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