Milk Fever

Milk Fever

by Hugh G. Van Pelt, from How To Feed the Dairy Cow, copyright 1919

loaned to SFJ by Wendy Bedortha

Editor’s note: Hey folks, this is old material and should be treated with intelligence and caution. In fact some of this would appear to be downright prehistoric and barbaric, akin perhaps to breast implants, liposuction, and lobotomies. But wait! Those procedures aren’t prehistoric, they’re just more than occasionally unnecessary and cruel. It is always good to know something of whence we came in order to better evaluate whether or not we went anywhere (useful or better). – LRM

Cows that milk largely and test richly are always susceptible to milk fever, and the more fleshy, vigorous, and strong the condition in which they freshen, the more liable they are to be attacked with milk fever, which usually makes its appearance at some time during the first 48 hours after calving. Before the discovery of oxygen and air as cures for milk fever, large production was necessarily sacrificed, for in the majority of cases cows died if they had it. It was, therefore, not advisable to prepare them so carefully for freshening, and thereby large production was sacrificed.

It is interesting to note that the making of large records began shortly after the time when the oxygen and air treatments for milk fever were discovered. Where this disease was formerly greatly to be dreaded in that 98 per cent of the cows which were attacked by it died, little is thought of it nowadays, so seldom does a cow die because of it. More than this, the disease should be prevented if possible because cows having suffered from even mild attack fail to produce as well as though preventive measures succeed.

Preventive Measures

An ounce and a half of Epsom salts per hundred pounds live weight, dissolved in a quart of water and administered carefully as a drench 24 hours before calving, is advisable. If for any reason this precaution is not taken it is especially advisable to give the Epsom salts drench to a heavy milking, rich-testing cow in plethoric condition provided calf birth had been easy and non-exhausting. The Epsom salts have a cooling effect upon the animals system and assure a laxative condition of the digestive apparatus.

It is, furthermore, but the part of wisdom not to milk the cow for 48 hours following parturition, for it is during this period that milk fever is most to be expected, although occasionally cases have been known prior to calving and later than 48 hours afterward.

If these precautions are taken, only enough milk being removed from each quarter of the udder to feed the calf and relieve excessive udder pressure, the danger of an attack of milk fever is reduced to the minimum. There is always a likelihood that high-producing, well fitted cows, other than those with first calves (which do not have milk fever) will show symptoms within 48 hours following parturition in spite of all precautions that may be taken. For this reason the cow should be watched carefully that the first symptoms of the disease may be detected and treatment applied at once, because if intercepted in the first stages the cow quickly recovers and the ill effects are so greatly lessened as to be almost negligible.

Milk Fever Symptoms

Nearly every dairyman and breeder of high-quality dairy cattle knows the symptoms of milk fever. The cow first becomes slightly excited and restless. She switches her tail, treads with her hind feet, moves about uneasily and bellows occasionally. In a short time she appears weak in the hind quarters, staggers as she attempts to walk and soon gives up, sinking to the floor. She finds herself unable to rise and then ceases to pay any attention to her calf or other surroundings. She partially closes her eyes and, as she becomes paralyzed, throws her head around on her side and lies in a quiet, comatose condition.

The pulse is weak and her temperature, which as a rule rises with the first symptoms, sinks three or four degrees below normal. If left without treatment the cow in this condition will die in from 24 to 72 hours without regaining consciousness. So certain is death under such conditions that one could ill afford to own the very best cows and properly prepare them for freshening before the discovery of a reliable form of cure for milk fever.

Milk Fever Treatment

The following description of how to treat and cure milk fever is outlined so fully by John R. Mohler of the United States Department of Agriculture that it is quoted here from Farmers’ Bulletin No. 206:

“Of all known methods of treating milk fever, the injection of sterile atmospheric air into the udder is by far the most simple and practicable as well as the most efficacious and harmless one at our disposal, and only occasionally requires that medicinal treatment be given.

“For a considerable length of time the entire value of Schmidt’s treatment was considered to be the antitoxic action of potassium iodide, and soon numerous investigators began injecting various other antiseptics, such as a carbolic acid, creolin, etc., with equally good results.

“Sterile water and sterile salt solution were tried with no increase in the mortality, and it was, therefore, considered that the distention of the udder was as important a factor as the antitoxic action of the iodide of potash. Continuing along these lines, Kortman used antiseptic gases (etherized air) with beneficial results. Oxygen was then tried by Knusel with increasing success, and the deaths among the experimental cases virtually ceased. The apparatus for treating with oxygen and etherized air, however, are expensive and cumbersome, and this greatly limits their use by the average practitioner.

“To Anderson, of Skanderborg, belongs the credit of first having made use of plain atmospheric air, although Schmidt had previously recommended the admittance of air with the potassium iodide solution for the purpose of obtaining greater diffusion of the liquid. Anderson first injected air along with sterile water, and then by itself. The results were astonishingly successful. Thus Schmidt reports that out of 914 cases treated in Denmark, 884 or 96.7 per cent, were restored to health. The record of 140 of these animals shows that recovery occurred in the average time of six and two-thirds hours. Of this number 25 cases required a second injection, while in three of the latter number it was necessary to give a third treatment before they were able to get upon their feet. The treatment is also practically harmless, as the statistics of the above mentioned 914 patients show that only one cow was affected with a severe attack of caked bag after this treatment, while in four other cows a milder inflammation of the udder was apparent. Equally good results have likewise been obtained in this country.

Milk Fever

“The method of injecting filtered air into the udder is easy of manipulation, requires but little time, and is readily accomplished by means of a milk-fever apparatus, such as is illustrated. It consists of a metal cylinder (f) with milled screw-caps (c) and (d) on either end. Cap (c) may be removed in order to place sterile absorbent cotton within the chamber. To this cap the rubber bellows (a) and (b) are connected by 9 inches of rubber tubing. Cap (d) is to be removed together with the attachment 18 inches of rubber hose, at the free end of which is the self-retaining milking tube (g), for the purpose of disinfection before treating each case. The pulling on or off of tubing on the nozzles of the milled caps is thus rendered unnecessary. Within the metal cylinder at (e) is a wire net, which prevents the obstruction of the outlet of the chamber by holding back the sterile cotton, and also permits of the unscrewing of the lower cap and disinfection of this portion of the apparatus, including the milking tube, without contaminating the packing. Absorbent cotton impregnated with carbolic acid (carbolized cotton) or other suitable disinfectant can be purchased from the drug trade in most localities and is better, though slightly more expensive, than the plain cotton.

“Previous to making the air injection, the hands of the operation should be thoroughly cleansed and the udder should receive the same careful antiseptic treatment as has been recommended in discussing the injection of potassium iodide. Soap and water should be applied to the teats and udder, after which they should be carefully disinfected with a 5 per cent solution of carbolic acid (three tablespoonfuls of pure carbolic acid to one quart of water). A clean towel should then be place under to prevent the teats from coming in contact with dirt or filth of any kind. The milking tube, before it is placed to the teat, should have been perfectly sterilized by boiling for 15 minutes, with the lower hose and cap of the cylinder attached and the apparatus should be wrapped in a clean towel, without touching the milking tube, to prevent contamination before use. If the apparatus has been subjected to this treatment shortly before, and it is desired to disinfect only the milking tube, the latter may be placed in a 5 per cent solution of carbolic acid for five minutes. It is then carefully inserted into the milk duct of the teat without emptying the udder of milk. Air is now pumped from the bulb (a) into the reservoir (b), and thus a continuous flow of air is forced through the filtering chamber and into the udder. Slight massage or kneading of the udder will cause the innermost recesses of the milk tubules to become distended with the injected air. After one-quarter of the udder is well distended the milking tube is remover, care being taken to prevent the outflow of air by having an assistant tie a broad piece of tape about the teat at the time the milking tube is withdrawn. The same treatment is repeated with the other three teats until the udder is satisfactorily distended. In case the air becomes absorbed and no improvement is noted within five hours, a repetition of this treatment should be made under the same antiseptic precautions as at first. The tape should be removed from the teat two or three hours after the cow gets on her feet, constricting muscles at the time of the teats being now depended on for retaining the air. In this manner the air may be left on the udder for 24 hours, and when recovery is assured, it should be gradually milked out. It is needless to say that the calf should not be permitted to suck during this period.

“Inflammation of the udder (caked bag) is avoided if the milking tube is thoroughly disinfected before each application, and is the cow’s teat and bag and the hands of the operator have been properly cleansed. If the apparatus is kept in it’s case free from dust and dirt, the absorbent or medicated cotton in the metal cylinder with efficiently filter enough air to distend the udders of six cows. After this number has been treated it is advisable to replace the old cotton with a fresh sterile supply, which should be placed loosely in the cylinder.

“While this method of treating milk fever is a comparatively easy one for a farmer or dairyman to adopt, he cannot expect to have the same successful results as those obtained by a skilled veterinarian, and it is therefore advisable that the service of such a veterinarian should always be obtained in those districts where it is possible. In many cases it will be found that the injection of air into the udder will be sufficient to combat the disease without any other treatment, but it is always advisable to study the symptoms of each individual case and administer in a rational manner the indicated medicines.”

Milk fever is not the only trouble to which the newly freshened cow is susceptible. In fact, the most trying periods of her life are those experienced at calving time. Proper feeding prior to parturition usually insures prompt and thorough cleaning. Even so, it is advisable to cleanse carefully and efficiently the vaginal tract with a mild disinfectant solution daily for the first week and then twice a week until the cow is rebred. No procedure will help more to keep contagious abortion and sterility out of a healthy herd or eliminate these difficulties from an infected herd than to make this a rule and follow it with every cow in the herd. Cows that do not clean promptly should be assisted within 48 hours and the same systematic treatment followed, because no amount of care and no system of feeding will stimulate large and profitable production from a cow that has not fully recovered from the process of parturition. Herein rests the reason for many of the disappointments that result from low production; and no dairyman or breeder can expect to keep a healthy, highly productive herd if he overlooks providing the best possible care, feed and management at parturition time.