Milk fever in Africa

Milk fever is a common problem in dairy cattle over the world. The calcium deficiency is responsible for many other health problems, like ketosis but also infectious disease. As such, milk fever and subclinical hypocalcaemia decrease food production and pose a risk to general health.

How do farmers deal with milk fever in different parts of the world? This is the personal story of a farmer in Kenia.

“Hypocalcaemia is common in dairy cows during the dry season when pasture is at a premium.  I was talking with a fellow farmer who has high milk producing cows.  The difference between his method and ours is that his girls are managed under zero grazing.  Our cows go out to pasture and walk to the watering point twice a day.  We had been talking about maintaining the milk production and even increasing it during the dry season.  He suggested adding dried shredded maize stalks to the feed when milking the cows as well as mineral suppliments and increase the molasses so as to really make the meal appetizing for the cow. Since we had harvested our crop of maize in December… there were stalks in plenty in the field.

The stalks were shredded and added to the milking feed.  Now, our cows are very particular about their feed and baulked at this new blend!  The milk production dropped, and they became fussy at the time of milking.  Needless to say, our milker, we manually milk our cows, was not a happy camper.  We persisted and they got used to the new taste and the milk production began to increase.  After two weeks, I began to notice that some of the cows that were being milked were laying down more than usual and having difficulty getting up.  I called in our vet and his diagnosis was hypocalcaemia!  I heaved a sigh of relief as my thoughts had jumped to East Coast Fever.  He suggested that I increase the mineral intake of the cows and have their mineral block lick available for them to consume at will.  This we did and the affected cows slowly began to regain their strength.

This was very alarming for me and I went back to my friend to watch him making their feed; this taking information in bits almost cost me my cows. He had three varieties of mineral supplements, potash (lye), sunflower husks, the shredded maize stalks, alfalfa, molasses, dairy meal and a couple of other ingredients thus making a really powerful feed!  He would give the cows this feed four times a day and the quantities, in kilogrammes, depended on each cow’s production.  Then I understood why he had not mentioned anything about milk fever.  The cows had more than adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium in their diet.  Really, one cannot go wrong there.  This is where I had slipped as I had not increased the mineral suppliments to ensure that the calcium used in the cow for milk production was being replaced.  Experience is really a hard teacher. Her test comes first and the lesson later.”

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