Hypocalcaemia or “milk fever” is a common cause of death in homesteader’s family milk cows. This disorder affects up to 10% of 2nd calf dairy cows but is more common with the jersey breed. It is caused by a severe drop in calcium at calving (and subsequent milking) and improperly balanced dry cow rations.
A cow with milk fever will seem weak, stagger, have a dry muzzle, staring eyes, and cold ears. They often lay with a “kink” in their neck that resembles the letter “S”. Once a cow goes down with milk fever (unable to get back up) she will slowly go into a coma and die. Her heart will slow down and breathing will become slower. Once a cow gets to this point, the only way to save her is with intravenous Calcium Gluconate 23% in her jugular vein. The calcium must be given slowly or it will kill the cow.
The main problem with homesteader owned cows is that their owners are not comfortable with or skilled at properly giving an I.V. of calcium. The inability to find or properly “hit” the vein, or running the bottle into the cow at too fast a rate often end up in a dead cow.
The good news is that you can be proactive and prevent full blown milk fever by treating it in it’s early stages by giving calcium “under the skin”. Any cow that after having her second calf shows any of the early warning signs (mentioned above) can be given a bottle under her skin. 9 times out of 10, this will be the only treatment needed and the cow will not develop full blown Hypocalcaemia. It is a fairly simple thing to do and more effective than the oral calcium gels on the market.
First you have to have an I.V. kit and a bottle of Calcium Gluconate 23% . NEVER use Cal/Dex mixes. It must be pure calcium with no dextrose. If the bottle contains dextrose your cow will develop a bad reaction, infection and scaring. Warm the bottle of calcium to body temperature and remove the top. Attach the bottle to your I.V. tube with the needle already attached. Just behind the front shoulder grab the cow’s skin with your thumb and forefinger, pulling it away from the body. Insert the needle under the skin and turn the bottle upside down and run it into the cow. You can’t put it in too fast when doing it this way, unlike running it into the vein. Raise it up as high as you can and run it in. When the bottle is empty, pull the needle and you are done. If calcium starts leaking out of the needle hole, you can rub it vigorously with a paper towel to stop it it. This calcium will be absorbed slowly and prevent (in most cases) the onset of full blown milk fever. You can repeat this at each milking for the first couple of days if needed.