This is a very common ailment: milk fever. In short, milk fever is a calcium deficiency in the blood, lowering the effectiveness of the cow’s nervous system and muscles. In the worst case, the animal may no longer be able to stand and runs the risk that it will eventually die (Goff 2007). Furthermore, the animal runs an increased risk of many other diseases, so that the need to treat milk fever is large. Research shows that on dairy farms, an average of between 20 and 60 percent of the cows has a form of calcium shortage (Veeteelt 2012). Scientific studies indicate that each case of milk fever costs around € 300, including the costs of treatment and reduced milk yield (Bethard 1998).
Even before calving, the cow begins to produce milk, causing the animal’s calcium demand to rise. However, feed uptake – and thus also calcium uptake – lags, and the uptake of calcium from the blood and bones is often also limited. This can lead to a cow suffering a shortage of calcium immediately before calving, with milk fever as a result. Sub-clinical milk fever can also arise. The cow can then stand but the sickness does reduce feed uptake, rumen action and immunity. The cow is also vulnerable to other metabolic and infectious diseases, including mastitis (Goff 2007). This has to do with the reduced muscle action, so the streak canal closes more slowly (Melkvee, October 2016). Cows with milk fever have a reduced appetite and are less active, their ears are often colder and the animal has trouble standing, or even can’t stand (Veearts.nl).
The treatment of milk fever aims to supply calcium as fast as possible – depending on the severity of the situation. The administration of phosphorous is also often desirable, as calcium and phosphorous are stored together in the body as calcium phosphate complex (CvB 2005). And magnesium plays an important role too, as this mineral is key to effective muscle function. A good way to administer calcium and magnesium quickly is using a drip. However, there are other – and slower – methods, such as drenches, boluses and powders. If a cow stays lying down due to milk fever, then it is important to help it to stand now and again to promote circulation.