Keeping a dairy cow to provide fresh milk, butter and other dairy products was something that earlier generations of Americans took for granted as a necessary part of providing their family's food supply. This practice became significantly less popular later as commercial milk supplies proved to be stable, convenient and relatively inexpensive. With today's increasing concerns about the health of many commercially-produced foods, the family milk cow is once again enjoying renewed popularity and becoming part of many small farms and homesteads. If you are a new dairy cow owner or considering becoming one, the following information on bovine ketosis will help your recognize and treat the symptoms of this potentially life-threatening health condition before it is too late.
What is bovine ketosis?
Ketosis occurs when a dairy cow falls into a negative energy state, usually after their body has been subjected to the stress of calving coupled with the demands of milk production. In a negative energy state, the cow's body begins to produce ketones which further complicate and worsen the problem. Cows who are becoming ketotic often become depressed and develop anorexia, making them unwilling to eat the food they need to fight ketosis.
What are the symptoms of bovine ketosis?
Family cow owners who note the following symptoms may be dealing with ketosis:
- a listless appearance, sometimes accompanied by an abnormal gait or coordination issues
- little or no interest in their normal feed, including hay, grain and pasture grass
- a chemical odor, sometimes resembling that of paint thinner or nail polish remover detectable in their breath, urine or milk
- agitation, nervousness or abnormal bellowing or licking
- compulsively eating or licking dirt, a condition called pica
- decreased or even no milk production
What should family cow owners do if bovine ketosis is suspected?
While dairy cows who experience any symptoms of possible ketosis should be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible, the dairy cow owner can begin treating the cow while awaiting the vet's visit by taking actions to help restore the cow to a positive energy state. In most cases, this is done by getting the cow to consume more carbs to provide the extra energy she needs.
Molasses is a carbohydrate-rich food that can be helpful in accomplishing this. Start by adding a pint of molasses to a five-gallon bucket of warm water and offering it to the cow to drink. Additionally, molasses can be added to other feeds or even spread onto hay to tempt the cow. If the ketosis is serious or the cow refuses to eat or drink, your veterinarian may choose to administer propolene glycol intravenously or use additional treatments to help the cow return to a healthful, positive energy state.