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Beef 911

roy lewis


With all the stressful events leading up to and including calving, the incidence of several problems does increase and we would be remiss if we did not review them. By being ever-vigilant of these conditions we can initiate treatment before the problem worsens.

The whole goal is to keep cows healthier so they milk better for their newborn calves and then rebreed. What we do at calving has a great influence on the upcoming breeding period.

Though mastitis is not common in beef cattle compared to dairy cattle, there are conditions which predispose cows to it. Most mastitis you see in beef cattle comes from the environment, and infection wicking up through the milk canal. Cows which are very heavy milkers leak milk close to calving from the pressure. Watch them extra close for signs of a swollen quarter or depression. If in doubt strip out the milk and see what it looks like. Many of the serious infections may have very watery-looking milk. Old cows with low-slung bags and very large teats are the other group most susceptible. Calves have a hard time sucking the large teats, the milk becomes stagnant, and mastitis can develop. Also the low-slung bags where the suspensory apparatus has been stretched, the udders contact more dirt and manure again making them susceptible.

Cows may have had a low-grade mastitis the year before which flares up when they calve again. If caught early, stripping out the infected milk and infusing the quarter may be enough. Because beef men don’t encounter mastitis very often some cases turn into chronic infections where the quarter is damaged beyond repair. Here there are various products your veterinarian can advise to allow the whole quarter to dry up.


Metritis, or infection in the uterus, is much more common in cows which don’t clean. Twinning or early premature births have a very high incidence of retained placenta. Most veterinarians have a regime for retained placentas, which may include hormonal shots. A metritis if it develops will see a cow very depressed with a very watery and smelly vaginal discharge. A mucous discharge indicates the cow is dealing with the problem.

On occasion all the uterine contents are trapped inside so the discharge or smell is non-existent. It is only when you examine the vagina and uterus that this will be evident. Antibiotics may do the trick but if the cow is very depressed and febrile your veterinarian may need to be called in to flush the uterus, give anti-inflammatory drugs and if severe put the cow on IV fluids. That is why it is very important to monitor cows with retained placentas so they don’t turn into a metritis.

Some cows which don’t retain their placenta can still develop metritis. Any cow which is depressed with no obvious signs of post-calving metritis would be a definite possibility.


Milk fevers from lack of calcium or the related conditions from a shortage of phosphorus or magnesium definitely need emergency care. The quicker they can be treated, the faster a response. If you notice signs of staggering, knuckling, difficulty rising these could all be precursors to the disease. Many come as a combination of shortages of the three minerals so veterinarians often will check the blood and treat with a product that has magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. Heavy milkers are of course most susceptible because of the calcium loss in the milk.

Beef cows can develop these milk fevers after (more common) or before calving. They may indicate there is not adequate mineral getting into the cows. Nowadays with blood machines in most clinics there will be a blood test taken to see which if any mineral is low. There may be other cases teetering on the edge and that is good to know ahead of time. Also we must distinguish the classical milk fever from other conditions causing a downer animal. Usually response to treatment is quite dramatic if the deficiency is solely calcium but phosphorus and magnesium deficiencies have a slower response.


Downers from injuries (slipping or falling) or hard pulls causing obturator paralysis (nerve damage) are another common category of conditions seen near or after calving. Here we must diagnose and then give a prognosis for recovery. Downer cows are hard to work on and over time complications such as pressure sores, stiff joints and muscle damage is the result. If a hard-calving calf or calf stuck in the pelvis for a long time there will be lots of abrasions and contusions which may need antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to keep the swelling especially around the obturator nerve to a minimum.

In spring or summer watch for fly strike as eggs are often layed in and around the area. Feeling is reduced and the nerves which innervate the tail may be damaged as well.

If given lots of TLC and making sure they are rolled side to side a few times daily, over time many cows will eventually get up. There will be slow progress over a few weeks in some cases. If you start going backwards it may be necessary to put them down for humane reasons. Fortunately these days fewer of these cases are seen as calving difficulties from fetal oversize have been drastically reduced.

By being observant for these conditions which crop up around calving season early intervention and treatment will reap rewards and allow more of these cows to survive and then rebreed.



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