A downer cow is a cow that becomes unable to stand after some sort of trauma. Also called a recumbent cow, her condition can happen for a number of reasons.

These include:

  • Calving paralysis
    Difficulties at calving in extreme cases can lead to paralysis in the dam.
  • Back injury
    Efforts to rise while accidentally positioned or trapped under stall partitions cause most back injuries in cattle. It can also happen during breeding so you should keep them and the bull in good body condition.
  • Milk fever
    Milk fever is an acute illness caused by calcium deficiency. Between 3% and 10% of dairy cows are affected each year according to Australian government figures.
  • Diseases like mastitis
    Mastitis is a bacterial infection, especially prevalent in dairy cattle, which inflames the udder tissue of a cow. On average, every farm culls two cows annually thanks to mastitis. Keeping good prevention practices will cost you an awful lot less.

A downer cow isn’t always cause for calling the vet. An Australian study found that 57% of cows get back up if there is no evidence of secondary damage.

downer cow no secondary damage

Secondary damage is muscle or nerve damage caused by lying for prolonged periods on hard surfaces.

Despite that, you shouldn’t take it a downer cow lightly. A staggering 84% of downer cows developed some sort of secondary damage.

Downer Cows

And of that 84%, only 14% got up again.

Downer cows with secondary damage that got back up

Top tips

Appropriate and prompt treatment

Due to the adverse effect of secondary damage, the shorter her stay on the ground the better. The longer the cow stays down the greater the chance of secondary damage developing.  If the cow is not up within six hours, she must be examined by a vet.

Thorough clinical examination

This is important to check for complicating issues.


Their anti inflammatory properties are just as important as pain relief

Gold-standard nursing care (feed and water, deep straw, turn over regularly one side to another)

Make sure that she has access to enough feed and water. She will also need a soft grip surface such as deep straw. Another important thing to do when caring for a downer is turning her regularly from side to side.

cow lying down on straw

Prevention better than cure

Milk fever should be prevented by  managing their diet properly. Dry cows should be kept on a low calcium diet. This stimulates their calcium regulatory system to keep the blood levels normal by mobilising the body stores of calcium from the bone.

If Milk fever does become an issue, prompt treatment is vital. Consult your vet for the best course of action.

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Assistance at calving is another essential if you’re aiming to minimise the incidence of downer cows. This can be ensured by including the Moocall calving sensor in your arsenal at calving season.

Because our calving sensor gives you alerts two hours and one hour before calving, you have time to be on the scene and ready to assist even if you live a long distance from your farm.

Learn more about it here: www.moocall.com/products/moocall-sensors

Keeping your cows in good body condition is the best way you can avoid them getting a back injury during breeding season.

Mastitis can be prevented in a number of ways. These include regular maintenance of milking machines, solid milking techniques, good hygiene, emphasis on teat disinfectant, keeping a good record of scc and culling and minimising antibiotic use until you absolutely need them.