An Old Fighter

I admit, I like old cows. They might not be the prettiest anymore, they might not be the top producers on test day, but there’s something to be said when they’ve been coming thru the parlor day after day for 10 years. Girls that last this long are healthy, productive and easily calve back in.

Some people don’t keep old cows around. Old cows can be problems. Just as with anything else, with age can come more susceptibility to health problems. Sooner or later age can catch up with you.

Meet #120, she’s approaching her 12th birthday. For 10 years she’s come in to the milking parlor daily. She’s made over 225,000 pounds of milk in her life. That’s a lot of moo juice!

#120 chowing on some silage shortly after calving.

#120 chowing on some silage shortly after calving.

The old girl’s always been problem free. When she calved in with her 9th calf a few weeks ago things abruptly changed. The first few days were fine. The third day things went down hill fast. 120 came in to the parlor to be milked that morning and while being milked became very shaky and fell down.

We had to use a tool called “hip lifts” to pick her up so she could be moved in to our box stall. This device does as it sounds, it is placed on the cows hips and enable us to pick her up using a tractor or skid loader. It is important to remember we are dealing with 1400+ pound animals. It requires large things to move them and hip lifts enable us to do this with out hurting them.

After a quick exam, it was easy to see 120 was suffering from hypocalcemia, commonly called milk fever. It happens more often to older cows. It occurs when the calcium levels in their blood drop. This problem can be corrected fairly easily with IV calcium.

She was given a bottle of calcium and stood up about 10 minutes later. The stuff works fast! When I came back to milk in the afternoon she was once again down. I gave another bottle and additionally gave her a large, slow dissolving calcium pill to give a more slow release effect. By the end of afternoon milking she was back on her feet, then the following morning she even made it thru the milking parlor again. All went well for 2 or 3 days.

By Friday she was down. For some reason our cantankerous box stall inhabitant was no longer getting up. It was odd to say the least. She was still eating, so that was a good sign. Then came Saturday morning. She was out flat, making no effort to hold herself up. 120 had given up. Age and illness had taken their toll. We fought with keeping her sitting up and somewhat comfortable all day. By evening euthanasia was being heavily considered. It is not fair to make a cow continue on like this. For what ever reason our care was no longer working and she had lost her fight to live. Times like this suck. Not only were we losing our old “grandma” cow but we had spent a lot of time and energy thru out the past week for her to call it quits.

Sunday morning she was at least setting up. She didn’t show much interest in food or water but she was up. Her outlook was still bleak.

I came to milk Sunday afternoon, parked my car, looked in to the box stall and there was 120 but she was standing up! Hope! Everyone was cautiously optimistic. Over night she ate, drank and continued to get up and down. By the next day she began going thru the parlor again on a regular basis.

For whatever reason 120 got a second wind, decided she still had some more time left in her. We try our best to help our animals. Some days it simply doesn’t work. It can be discouraging. But this story had a happy ending. The old girl is back to going thru the parlor and is living back in the freestall barn these days. With time she should come back up to regular milk production. She was a good case to remind you that it can look bad, but there’s always a tiny shred of hope.


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