This is a blog post for those of you who own dairy cows; Especially for small farmers and single cow owners. Those wanting to learn about the use of Homeopathy in Symptoms of Milk Fever.
I often find my self replying to questions about Milk fever. Since it is Spring time in the Northern Hemisphere and calves are being born; a lot of people are asking about this topic again. It seems a good topic for a blog.
I’m answering from; my experience as an ex dairy farmer in New Zealand, and from my professional knowledge as a homeopath. Please note; I am in New Zealand. Our herd of 150 dairy cows were grass fed and outside in the paddock all year long. This may be very different from your situation. It is also good to know that in NZ, farmers are allowed to treat their cows for many complaints themselves. Of course with veterinarian guidance. This may not be the case for you. And the products available in your country will be different from what we use in NZ too. Never the less; the natural needs of Cows around calving time are the same the world over. So, here is what I can share with you about Homeopathy and Milk Fever.
On our farm, Homeopathy was part of our routine of cow health maintenance and optimization, on a daily basis. We had few health issues in our herd due to that. And if we did have problems like Milk Fever, Homeopathy would always be our first point of call. We know for ourselves and for our animals that health results from; proper nourishment, low stress and other lifestyle measures and choices that raise the natural resilience we all have. If we look after ourselves and our animals and provide for their natural needs adequately; We can prevent depletion of the system and avoid the occurrence of symptoms in many cases.
It is imperative you understand the (nutritional) needs of a dairy cow in order to care for her properly. It pays to research this; so you can be prepared before you acquire a dairy cow and if you are new to keeping an animal of this size.
What is milk fever?
Milk fever is a metabolic disorder caused by insufficient calcium, commonly occurring around calving. Milk fever is related to diet requirements that change due to pregnancy and calving. The risk is dependent on many factors. E.g. the weather, pre-disposition (some cows are just more prone to get it) and it goes up with the age of the animal.
Soil/ pasture health is the basis of good cow health
Looking after your soil is the basis of good Cow health. Your cows take up minerals from grass and your grass takes those minerals up from the soil. Have your soil tested and use appropriate fertilisation, only based on soil test results. Understand the interaction of minerals; eg low or high rate of one may suppress the availability to the cow of the other. Milk Fever is a metabolic disease. Therefore Pasture and soil health and feed management are imperative tools of prevention, that would come before supporting symptoms of Milk Fever with Homeopathy or otherwise.
Do not use Pot ash fertilizer (K) in Spring or Winter time; if you intend to feed that pasture to newly calved cows. As Potash interferes with the Calcium/ Magnesium balance.
General info on Milk fever
Taken from the Dairy NZ website
‘Milk fever, or hypocalcaemia, is when the dairy cow has lowered levels of blood calcium. Milk fever generally occurs within the first 24 hours post-calving, but can still occur two to three days post-calving. It can be either clinical or subclinical. Clinical milk fever includes both “downer” and “non-downer” cows. Sub-clinical milk fever includes cows that seem functional but do not perform well. Milk fever increases the risk of other metabolic diseases and infections, such as ketosis and metritis, and approximately 5 percent of downer cows do not recover.
The dairy cow obtains calcium from her diet or from stores in her bones. Although there are substantial amounts of calcium available from these sources, the absorption from the intestines, or resorption from bone, is under tight hormonal control and is affected by other minerals (e.g. phosphorus and magnesium) and vitamins (e.g. vitamin D).With the onset of lactation, and production of colostrum, the cow’s requirement for calcium increases substantially (400 percent increase in a day). To meet these calcium requirements, the cow must increase both the absorption and resorption processes. Any factors that interfere with these processes mean the cow cannot meet the increased demand for calcium, and this results in lowered blood calcium concentration and milk fever.
There are many factors that influence milk fever, including nutritional and management factors, as well as others outside of the famer’s control, such as the weather.
Calcium It is recommended to maintain low blood calcium levels before calving to stimulate an increase in the proportion of calcium that is absorbed from the diet during the pre-calving period. Once she has calved, a cow’s calcium requirements increase by around 400 percent to support colostrum production. All cows should receive dietary calcium during the colostrum period. This is commonly administered through dusting of pastures, or by incorporating it into supplements being fed. Cows require at least 100g of lime flour per cow per day, with this level increasing to 300g for cows with an increased risk of milk fever. Remember, when dusting minerals in the paddock, the levels need to be either double or triple to allow for losses. After the colostrum period there is no known benefit of supplementing cows with calcium unless milk fever is occurring in the milking herd, or cows are consuming large amounts of low calcium feed, such as maize or cereal grains.
Magnesium Magnesium plays a vital role in the prevention of milk fever. It is essential for the efficient absorption and resorption of calcium. Supplementation with magnesium has the largest effect on decreasing the incidence of milk fever. Supplementing with magnesium for two to three weeks pre-calving will reduce the risk of milk fever. However it does not build up a store of magnesium, and continued supplementation will be required during early lactation.”
Before calving a cow will need to have a rest period from milking of at least 6 weeks. So that she can gain condition/ strength / weight, grow her calf and get her energy up, for the new milking season ahead.
Milk production needs mobilization of calcium in the cows system. Magnesium needed for this. Magnesium supplementation is needed before calving (3- 6 weeks before)
Do NOT use Lime flour but use Gypsum; if calcium supplementation is needed in the weeks before calving.
Do not feed high protein feed in the weeks before calving. This stimulates milk production and is a drain on the system in this time. It depletes magnesium. In the last 3 weeks prior to calving particularly; feed roughage (hay) over high protein food.
The birthing process draws out a lot of magnesium from the system. It is used up by muscle function/ contractions. If a calving is prolonged or difficult; this depletion is exacerbated and creates an urgent shortage preventing calcium to be mobilized. This is a red flag for Milk Fever Risk. Homeopathy can be used in Birthing issues also. Milk Fever is only one of the many things you can expect to encounter with life stock, homeopathy can help with.
As soon as the cow has calved; feed a high protein diet in sufficient quantity. Maize and grain are low protein feeds. This means she needs grass or grass silage. Her needs go up due to milk production. A cow also needs energy to recuperate from the birth and regain her strength. Give Lime flour and magnesium applied to feed once they have calved especially during the early lactation period.
Signs of Milk fever to look for
Early signs of milk fever are important to identify. Early intervention is imperative to prevent the cow from actually going down or collapsing with it. Look for
- animals that are not eating,
- trembling and instability in walking,
- sometimes erratic behaviour (due to low magnesium )/ aggression
- and an early lack of milk production
- or non thriving animals.
In these instances (providing she is eating and drinking) immediate access to high protein food with calcium and magnesium added may prevent deterioration. And sometimes just the use of homeopathy can help restore the balance and overcome the Milk Fever in this case.
But if the situation is more severe with the cow having gone down it is often essential, to also give an oral, subcutaneous or intravenous magnesium/calcium containing product; beside using a homeopathic remedy. Discuss options with your vet and have some on hand for emergencies, as these always tend to happen after hours. Not supplying your cow with this can leave lasting effects on health, production, the milking season or be lethal in the worst case.
Once she has gone down with milk fever you need to give (discuss options with your vet)
- a Calcium/ Magnesium/ Phos product to help mobilise the calcium intravenously preferably or under the skin for immediate mobilization of minerals in dramatic/ critical cases.
- In addition or in mild cases you can give an oral product/ drench which has a longer/ slower acting effect to help sustain the mobilization until the cow can eat and restore her Mag/ Calc levels sufficiently herself.
A preventative approach to Milk fever
- Believe in ‘prevention is better than treatment’.
- Emphasize soil and pasture health first.
- Understand and cater for your Cows metabolic and physiological needs as well as assuring calm routines and low stress levels.
- Know your individual animals and identify and monitor at risk animals
- (record keeping is important as you forget what happened last year).
- Support your cows metabolism and the balance of these critical minerals with the use of a homeopathic product prophylactically,
- Starting 6 weeks prior to calving.
- This could be a water trough treatment for your whole herd
- with a combination remedy of Calc Phos and Mag Phos 30c in a liquid formula according to this schedule:
- Initially 1 capful (= 5ML) into the water supply x2 daily for 4 days only
- Followed by 1 capful in the water supply weekly
Once a cow shows early signs of milk fever; you can try this same remedy acutely ( with frequent dosing over a short period) to help them recover.
Acute support for Symptoms of Milkfever
In order to address acute symptoms (at any stage and severity) of Milk Fever Symptoms; use the following Homeopathic remedies, if and when they are indicated. Please note; this list is not exhaustive, but merely a list of the most used remedies from a myriad of possibles.
- Belladonna – Excitable state, the animal may look wild and throw its head violently. There is a staring look and dilated pupils
- CalcPhos/ Mag Phos – Can be used acutely to help balance in the early stages of Milk Fever (as said above)
- Cuprum Metalicum – We see muscular cramps, spasms and stiffness, jerking, twitching and foaming at the mouth
- Opium – Used when there is a lack of reaction and the animal is comatose with laboured snoring breathing. Pupils are constricted and the eyes have a staring blank look
- (Also think of Carb Veg ‘the corpse reviver’ in this state if you see no response from the Opium)
- Stramonium – Staggering gait, tendency to fall, wild staring look. May be easily startled and spooked or may chase you (very closely related to Belladonna)
Acutely treating symptoms in the situation where a cow is symptomatic of Milk Fever requires
- Frequent dosing.
- As often as 5-10 min apart initially and as soon as possible, in order to stop worsening of the situation and to restore balance promptly.
- But dose this way ONLY; UNTIL you see a change occurring.
- Then start spreading out the doses more
- Seize dosing altogether if and when a significant improvement is seen and sustained.
- After that; repeat a dose only if/ when symptoms reoccur
- If you fail to see an improvement within 4-6 doses with one remedy reassess and change remedies.
A great and practical book with clear instructions is Tineke Verkade’s book “Homeopathic Handbook for Dairy Farmers”
A last note on using Homeopathy in Milk Fever
It is important to note that Homeopathic remedies can be used alone or in conjunction with other interventions. At all times common sense must prevail. Veterinarian care must be sought in order to reduce or prevent suffering immediately, and as soon as it becomes clear your interventions are not sufficient, should this be the case. Having homeopathic remedies at the ready can be of enormous assistance even when waiting for a vet to arrive.
You may be interested in my Guide to giving homeopathic remedies to Animals and if you require more information or assistance I am always happy to help. Feel free to book a consult below.