When veterinarians receive a call to treat a "downer cow" they may cringe, because the success rate in treating many of these cows is very low. Dr. Shaw Perrin with Ohio State shared some advice on bovineveterinarian.com on handling these cases. The situation should be treated as an emergency and it requires at least three people to safely move a down cow. A preliminary exam should be performed to determine if she has a broken leg, another serious injury, or is unresponsive and requires euthanasia rather than moving her and attempting treatment. If no obvious causes are found, offer water and call your veterinarian. If she is stable enough to be moved, move her to a safe area in a pen or paddock free of mud or slippery surfaces, with good footing. Cows can be moved with a sled, bucket loader, or harness. Secure the cow's head with a halter to protect it during the process.
Dr. Perrin also said it is always acceptable to give a dose of banamine for pain relief, but giving dexamethasone is not a good idea since it causes abortion in cows. Medication should be prescribed by the veterinarian after examining the animal to determine the cause of the inability to stand. Cows with milk fever respond very well after calcium administration in the vein and some cows with grass tetany will respond after receiving intravenous magnesium. Dr. Perrin said it is not a good idea to attempt to make these cows stand if they are on a slippery surface because that will only wear them out. Using abusive methods to encourage cows to stand is not a good idea. Be careful not to cause further injury when moving these cows. Never drag or lift a cow by the head or neck. Using hip lifts can be effective in helping some cows rise.