Down Cows Relieved with Warm Bath

Weighing often more than 600kg, dairy cows can become victims of their own weight if they’re lying down too long after an injury or illness.

Often referred to as “downer cows,” this phenomenon is considered a major welfare issue in the dairy industry.

“There are a variety of techniques and devices that have been used to assist recumbent cows, such as hip lifters, slings, inflatable balloons and flotation therapy” says Lisa McCrea, DVM at Agwest Veterinary Group.  “But there is little scientific evaluation of elevating downer cows and the effect on animal well-being.”

Inspired by how water therapy helps people recover from injury, a Danish dairy farmer developed the Aqua Cow Rise System, a portable tank that slowly fills with warm water, lifting cows to a standing position.  Showing promise in Europe and the US, Agwest Veterinary Group purchased one of these specialized bovine float tanks for use in BC.

“The Aqua Cow Rise System is like physiotherapy for cows” explains Yanne Stojkov, DVM and researcher with the UBC Animal Welfare program. “It is typically used three to four times until the animal gets better.”

With funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, Agwest studied the efficacy of the system, offering the services to Fraser Valley dairy farmers free of charge.  Researchers gathered data as they responded to farms with a down cow, and then monitored the animal for stress and recovery.

“We have found this system to be more successful than other lifting techniques,” says Mark Schurmann of Locarno Farms in Abbotsford. “It is a time-consuming process, but when you have a healthy cow when it’s complete, it’s well worth it.”

Funding: $21,450 from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.  (INN195)