Saturday, September 13, 2008

Calving paralysis

Edit 1/10: googling for calving paralysis in calves? Try "contracted tendons" calves Usually straightens up on its own eventually, or the vet can use splints to straighten the legs. Haven't seen a serious case for years.

Shortly, I'll summarise how each of the AB sires got on this year. Overall 50% of the calves were heifers, a much better rate than last year. The Brown Swiss calves again were nearly all bulls. There are several images still to be taken, a visual representation of bull performance (mind out of the gutter please!! - or was it only me who misunderstood that last...?) including last year's Angus who has now been given a name because it feels totally wrong to write 'Angus' in the sire space next to his calves. They're... interesting calves.

106 had an unusual calf. Unusually large, that is. She's a Friesian cow, mated to Brown Swiss. All of the Brown Swiss calves have been large - at a guess, ranging from 40 - 50 kg, usually several inches taller than any other of the baby calves in their pen. Until 106 had her calf, there were no calving difficulties with the BS crosses. She managed it on her own, during the night. When I got there in the morning she was tending a very dead, very large grey bull calf (most likely 60 kg plus - I never did lift him; I drove the tractor right up, slid him onto the tray, off again at his destination) and staggering about on a wonky leg.

This is fairly typical of calving paralysis - she in fact has very little control over that right rear leg and can only walk with considerable difficulty. The movement in her leg when she did walk was simply scary to watch - the separate parts of the leg all seemed to roll and wobble independently of the joint above or below.
Sometimes I've seen calving paralysis expressed as no more than a knuckled-over foot, or a general weakness in the hind legs. Or a leg might swing forward and out, making it almost impossible for the cow to rise or walk - in the worst instances calving paralysis can be a cause of downer cow. Time and rest return the cow to full mobility, and treatment with anti-inflammatory in the initial stages appear to help.

We tried to rest 106. She had to walk home for her first miking, was then left with some other cows in the closest paddock to the dairy shed and by next milking I found her halfway down the farm again, trying to get back to where she left her calf. She ended up on alternate days with the colostrum mob (halfway down the farm and left behind for the evening milking) and in the paddock next to the shed, as she was more settled with the other cows, but definitely not fit for the walk. The enormous quantities of milk she was giving finally decided it - she had to stay next to the shed and be milked twice daily (on once daily the row waited while the cups were washed and the yard hosed down before she was finally milked out), and be denied any and all opportunities to drag her reluctant limb down the farm race.
It took about a fortnight before she recovered enough to join the milking herd.

148 had calving paralysis last year, from delivering a Friesian-cross bull calf. it wouldn't have been much of an issue, except that the races were smoothly slippery following heavy rain and while she could get about well enough on the paddock, she couldn't walk home without falling over every few yards.
She got a ride home on the back of the tractor and was dropped off in the paddock next to the shed with her calf, where she went down with milk fever a few days later (pasture samples have since shown that paddock to be unsafe for transition cows, owing to excessively high potassium) but quickly recovered. She also had an extended stay in the colostrum herd, and joined the milking herd about ten days after calving.

In 148's case I blamed the bull, who was supposedly easy calving but had thrown several over-sized calves by that stage. But the bull is only half the story. Last year I mated 148 to Jersey. She's eleven years old now, and won't be cross-bred again. Partly because of her history of large calves - but also the older cows are at much higher risk of post-calving complications, and it seems an easy calving is the best chance they have of giving yet enother good lactation. And another, and another...
This year 148 calved after a rainy night, in company with about ten other cows. I arrived in the morning to find a muddy break, a cast heifer who ultimately needed vet assitance to calve, and more calves than you could count - a third of the calving herd had delivered overnight, including a set of twins, and only about two calves were anywhere near their mothers. 148's was one of those. He was a very large, very pale Jersey bull.

Googling 'calving paralysis' brings up a couple of useful looking pdf files, the first of which has failed to appear in the time I've been typing, so you just have to put up with my explanation assisted by R W Blowey. The symptoms are as shown above. The cause is nerve damage, from prolonged pressure during calving. It's the primary reason, in my opinion, for assisting a cow who is progressing slowly calving a large calf that is normally presented (an abnormal presentation presumably would be assisted as soon as identified). All of the severe cases of calving paralysis I've seen have occured in a cow that hadn't been seen for several hours and had delivered a dead calf on her own - the calf usually oversized and presumably dead because of the long delivery.
If you want to show off the fancy words you learned from a vet at some stage, you can tell the next vet your cow has 'obdurator paralysis' because that is the name of the nerve often damaged by a tight calving. Further explanation by R W Blowey (A Veterinary Book for Dairy Farmers, otherwise known as 'the green bible') however suggests that what I more commonly see is peroneal nerve damage, which causes the knuckling over of the fetlock.
Rest and time eventually returns the cow to her normal gait, but in the meantime her biggest risk is slipping over and injuring herself on a hard slippery surface (which is why 148 was *not* made to walk home - rather do whatever it takes to get her safely transported on the back of the tractor than risk a broken pelvis). In Britain where the cows aren't commonly outside in winter, we used rope or shackles on cows with calving paralysis to prevent them from 'doing the splits' with the possibility of causing injuries that don't heal.


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