When Cows Overeat

We had a cow break into the barn and eat a ton of grain overnight. That’s really, really bad. It normally leads to a condition called “acidosis” which screws up the cow’s digestive system and can cause all kinds of problems–even death. Worst of all, this cow was a pre-bred Jersey 1 week from calving! Fortunately, the trouble gave us the opportunity to learn what to do and now we might be able to help you save some time and money if it ever happens to you.

1.  Isolate the cow.  Shut her into a field or pen where no other animals are because if she gets diarrhea, things might get messy.  You don’t want them in the barn, around other animals, or lost in the woods in the middle of the night. 

2. Get an injection of Probiocin ($8 for 60 oz. = 2 doses) into your cow. It comes in a plastic syringe with directions on the side. Set the dosage level and stick it in the side of the cow’s mouth, squirting it onto the back of the cow’s tongue. The cow will eat it pretty easily. If any doesn’t make it in, just wipe it on the cow’s front upper lip and she’ll lick it off.  This counters the dangers of acidosis in the cow’s digestive system. 

3.  Keep an eye on the cow’s manure.  If she starts to have diarrhea, you’ll have to take normal measures for such.  That means, making sure she’s getting fluids, adding an electrolyte mix to her water tank, and feeding her plain hay. 

4.  Make a gallon of an alkaline energy drink for your cow to sip.  Make it in 2-quart quantities so none gets wasted.  To 2 quarts of warm water, add 4 tablespoons of molasses, 2 teaspoons of baking soda and a teaspoon of salt.  Shake it up and pour it in a sturdy bowl.  The cow may not be interested at first, but if she’s up and around, she’ll eventually slurp it up.  If she does, make another batch. 

5.  If after 24 hours, the cow has a bad case of diarrhea, is laying around a lot just looking miserable and will not drink anything after a while, call the vet.  He can get fluids into her and cut of any bigger problems before they develop. 

If you’re worried…call the vet.

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4 Responses to When Cows Overeat

  1. villapacis says:

    P.S. If you can’t afford to call a vet when you have a sick animal, you probably can’t shouldn’t own those animals. If you lose animals to sicknesses that are easily (a) prevented or (b) remedied, you will quickly lose too much money to justify owning a farm. To have a cow worth $2,000 by sale and many more thousands by milking die because you tried to avoid spending $200 for a vet visit is not good business. Moreover, every vet visit is an important learning opportunity on the farm that will help you handle problems more effectively in the future.

  2. Mrs. Brown says:

    Ha! Didn’t think I’d be referring back to this post. Our 4 yo reg. pregnant Jersey got in to her super-concentrate and ate 20-30 lbs. of it after the gate to the grain room didn’t get shut properly. She usually gets 2 lbs./day mixed with her corn. I called a doctor from Purina (the mfgr. of the concentrate) and our vet to get as much info as I could and give her the best chance at getting over this. Although, no one has been out to see her. They don’t seem to think there is anything they can do at this point. We are to just watch what goes in and what comes out along with her demeanor, all of which are looking okay at this point. The biggest concern is a twisted gut and we won’t know for a few more days if she’s going to get over it on her own. She sure is miserable though. She OD’d sometime Sunday. She ate or drank little to nothing Monday but is today eating lots good grass hay and drinking water. To add to her misery, as of last night, she has mastitis in one quarter…I was told it is most likely from the stress of everything. So, we are milking her every few hours. Our vet said 80% of mastits will go away on its own with frequent milkings. Poor girl.

    Anyway, just thought I’d thank you for posting this. On your advice, we made up a baking soda/molasses cocktail for her. Your advice, coupled with a few other sources, has been very helpful. I’m off to the store to buy some things, including the Probiocin you recommended. Thanks for sharing the experience and the advice.

    • wmclaa says:

      If she’s eating lots of grass/hay, you’re probably going to be safe. The problem is that the grain overdose leads to a rise in acidity in the digestive system (which relies on a balance of digestive chemicals/bacteria) which then leads to diarrhea and dehydration. (Are you seeing diarrhea?) If she’s eating lots of hay, the balance will be maintained enough to keep her healthy. My vet told me that anytime it happens, just take a fist full of good hay and stuff it into the back of her mouth and force hay into her. The probios puts some of that good bacteria back into her in case the acidity levels harmed it within her stomach.

      I wouldn’t be worried if I was in your situation.

      I’ve never had mastitis problems last more than a few days. I catch it in the strip cup early and notice that the milk filters slowly before I can see anything. Then, I make sure to milk the heck out of that quarter and keep her clean. We give that milk to the pigs and, in a few days, she’s back to normal. When filtering is back to normal (only one filter needed to strain all of her milk) we know she’s safe to drink again. This is one of the benefits of hand-milking on a small farm. You can catch these things immediately and fix them before they ever become a problem.

      Have fun. I always remind myself, “These are unreasoning animals whom God made dependent on my reason and patience. Everything they do wrong is MY FAULT.”

      WM

  3. Michael says:

    Thanks for the most valuable detailed information, it saved a 3 year old Charolais heifer for me @ 4am the other night. The vet I had rang had told my nothing could be done and just hope for the best !. Your post is very much appreciated. From an Irish man.

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