Here's an explanation of " Milk Fever " or Hypocalcemia in Cattle, courtesy of The Merck Vet Manual.
Here's a dramatic video. You can see why we milkmaids, dairy farmers, and family cow owners have the hair stand up on the back of our necks at the very thought of it.
I bought a cow last December,Happy to be exact actually, from my very favorite little Jersey dairy. Somehow we got on the the topic of milk fever and I asked them how they treat it, etc. and they said, " Oh we don't see any cases anymore since we switched to dry cow minerals". I thought, that's it? Dry cow minerals? No anionic salts or low calcium feeds or prophylactic tubes of calcium? Nope. I decided to do some things differently for the cows calving in 2009, knowing I had some big producers calving in that would be good candidates to test this theory.
In the past I had not given them any grain during the dry period, no alfalfa, and tried my hardest to catch them in labor and force the calcium paste down their gulletts while sweating bulletts the whole time about milk fever. For the record I haven't had a bad case previously, but Gale tries to go down and always requires extreme vigilance, and usually gets ketosis a couple weeks post calving.
Here's what I changed this year and so far, 3 for 3, have had excellent results.
I bought some minerals specifically for dry cows. This is the big part obviously. Starting 3 weeks before calving I have been bringing the cow in, feeding a scoop of grain and mixing in a handful of dry cow minerals. 2 weeks before due date I up it to 1 scoop twice a day with a handful of dry cow minerals. Depending on her condition, I might increase it to 2 scoops twice a day but ALWAYS with a handful of dry cow minerals mixed in. The key is to use minerals SPECIFICALLY designed for dry dairy cows.
Here's what I use. http://www.poulingrain.com/pages/3246/Poulin_Dry_Cow_Mineral_II.htm
Anyway, I really feel the combination of feeding them well leading up to freshening, with proper mineral balance has been making a big impact. When Gale calves in January it will be the ultimate test. She is prone to both milk fever and ketosis as she is tiny, 700lbs right now at her biggest ever, and being a VERY high producer.
I was afraid that feeding them grain before calving would leave them even more susceptible to milk fever but I think it is the inclusion of the dry cow minerals, and the fact that it is any easier transition from dry to lactating, that there is less stress on their system. I've had no metabolic issues, didn't even need a single tube of calcium paste, the cows effortlessly transition to lactating and have calved in with the best body condition scoring I've ever achieved! No fresh cow mastitis either. Anyway, I'm becoming a believer.
I've certainly spent many sleepless nights over calving Jersey cows the last few years and it was the thought of finding one of my beloved cows in a state such as that poor cow in the you tube video that kept me awake.
Won't you try this experiment with me?