Mkulima today studies show that there is a 67 percent chance of your animals encountering retained afterbirth, downer cow syndrome, difficulty in calving, milk fever, mastitis, or metritis in that order.

Any farmer aspires to have their cows produce a calf every year for more milk and better earnings for the farm and the household.

This also helps in the replacement of heifers and more animals to sell.

However, the calving period comes with several challenges that if not well managed can destroy your hopes as a farmer.

Agriculture has never been easy but with proper knowledge, the edges can be smoothed over.

These conditions are common 2 – 3 weeks before, after or during birth.

1. Retained afterbirth (RAB)

Retained afterbirth commonly referred to as RAB happens when the animal fails to expel the fetal sac 24 hours after calving.

Normally, expulsion takes place 3-8 hours after delivery. Even in animals that do not have any health problems, there is a 5-15 percent chance of an animal developing a RAB. However, in most cases, there are predisposing causes that include

  • abortion
  • difficult calving
  • stillbirth
  • calcium deficiency
  • advancing age and
  • nutritional deficiencies

Diagnosis of RAB visual where the placenta can be seen protruding from the animal’s birth opening after the calf has been delivered.

Common practices with small scale producers include pulling or cutting the membrane, attempting to remove them as vets do, feeding the animals with maize to cause constipation with the hope that as the animal strains to defecate, the placenta will also come out and sometimes tie a heavy object on the hanging material, hoping that the weight of the object will remove the offending remains.

All these compound the problem with maize feeding leading to life-threatening lactic acidosis. Pulling leads to bleeding which if excessive can cause death and removal of the placenta using dirty hands predisposes the animal to infection of the uterus.

Some professionals recommend no interference with the placenta, insisting that it will fall 2-11 days after delivery. But in the field, good results have been observed after Hygenic removal by a veterinarian who gently peels off the placenta from the uterus and thereafter inserts some antibiotic tablets (pessaries) to prevent secondary bacterial infection.

Serving animals with bulls that have proven calving ease, using artificial insemination to prevent breeding diseases, supplementing animals with vitamin E and selenium, culling aged cows, and handling such incidences by professionals to reduce RAB incidences.

2. Difficulty calving (Dystocia)

Calving is difficult for both the mother and the calf and even with good management, 10-15 percent of heifers and 3-5 percent of mature animals can experience dystocia.

predisposing factors  include

  • the cow’s pelvic size,
  • body weight
  • age t
  • The calf’s birth weight/presentation at birth
  • number of calves in the uterus
  • pregnancy length
  • season of the year
  • calving ease of the father and
  • the nutritional status of the animal calving.

The challenges can be addressed through the selection of heifers with a big pelvic area, serving heifers with bulls with good calving ease and low calf birth weight, culling aged cows, avoiding overfeeding animals (Fat animals experience dystocia and reduced milk production) Use of sexed semen to produce more heifers (bull calves are more likely to lead to dystocia)

, timing calving to coincide with the rainy season when there are plenty of feeds and setting aside calving areas where close observation can take place for early intervention.

3. MIlk fever

Milk fever (low calcium/hypocalcemia) is an acute, flabby, or partial paralysis that affects mature cows entering their third or more calving.

This takes place within 72 hours after calving. A characteristic sign of this condition is twisting of the neck backward in the animal that is lying down and appears unresponsive.

The body temperature is usually normal or below normal. The rectal temperature reference range for an adult cow is 37.8-39.2°Celsius [100.0-102.5°Fahrenheit], and a little higher for a calf at 38.6-39.4°Celsius [101.5-103.5°Fahrenheit]. However, bear in mind that a small proportion of ‘normal’ animals will have a rectal temperature outside of these ranges.

Predisposing factors include breed (jerseys’ are more prone) high milk production which is associated with loss of calcium and the age of the cow with a 9 percent risk of subsequent calving and diet.

Feeds that are high in sodium and potassium are associated with milk fever, while those high in sulfuric and hydrochloride salts of calcium and magnesium are preventive. About 60 60 70 percent of milk fever cases die if not treated.

Shortage of injectable calcium as is the current situation leads to huge losses through the death of animals.

To curb the disease, administer calcium by mouth or subcutaneous injection calving and 12 hours later, partial emptying of the udder after calving and close observation for prompt treatment of animals with a history of milk fever.

Current innovative techniques include cation-anion difference (CAD) which is a method of feeding diets with a balance of sodium, potassium, sulfuric, and hydrochloride salts.

Other methods include the use of calcium-binding salts that reduce calcium in the blood necessitating the body to stimulate the hormone that mobilized calcium from the blood and absorption of dietary calcium through the intestines. However, the applicability and availability of the last two innovations in Kenya are limited.

4. Downer cow syndrome (DCS)

Here an animal that has calved is unable to rise after 24 hours of lying down. The two common predisposing factors of DCS include milk fever, especially if the animal does not respond to two treatments for milk fever. The other one is lack or inadequate supplemental feeding in late pregnancy or after calving.

A DCS animal is normally alert, eats and feeds well, and has a normal temperature. Prolonged contact with the ground might lead to permanent nerve damage.


Management of DCS includes physical, chemical, and nutritional treatment. Physical care involves placing the animal under a shade and on a  soft surface that includes a layer of one-foot thick straw or sand. The animal can be rolled from one side to the other at least three times a day to avoid nerve damage through contact pressure.

Chemical therapy includes the administration of calcium if it had not been done already. Also administer potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus if calcium injection does not work and injection of selenium and vitamin E.

Nutritional supplementation with high-quality fodder, dairy meal, and mineral salts should be done. The feed and water should be availed throughout the treatment period.

With good management, an animal should be able to rise within 14 days failure to which consider disposing of it.

5. Mastitis

Mastitis is the inflammation of the udder and or teats and it is accompanied by changes such as color, consistency, and smell of milk. Bacteria are the most common cause of mastitis.

Pre calving mastitis is often due to improper drying off (final milking at the end of the milking period), dirty beddings, and the environment.

Post calving mastitis is often due to the unhygienic handling of milking sessions. Previously sudden milking cessation combined with long-acting antibacterial suspensions has been used to dry off cows, but this is being discouraged due to the widespread antimicrobial resistance.

Decreased feeding combined with reduced milking frequency is effective in reducing milking production at drying.

Post calving, a dry/clean cowshed, and milking parlor, clean milkers hands, and equipment especially the drying clothes are very important in the prevention of mastitis.

6. Metritis

Metritis is an infection of the uterus. It occurs within the first 14 days after calving and is associated with bacterial contamination of the reproductive tract. Predisposing factors include difficult calving and milf fever.

proper handling of the two reduces its incidence and the possibility for a cow to have it.

7. Udder oedema

This is excess swelling of the udder which might extend to between hind legs. The condition is not painful and it is due to the accumulation of fluids.

Predisposing factors include age with heifers being more at risk.

Inadequate exercise also contributes to udder oedema. Massaging the affected area with warm water after milking relieves the problem in due course.

Credits: Dr Mwirigi a livestock specialist

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