Down cows are best rolled often to reduce limb stress until they are ready to stand. Caroline Benson explains why and how.

Calving is normally an exceptionally busy time of year and it’s also the time when you’re most likely to see a down cow on the farm.
While our natural instinct might be to help a cow stand as soon as possible this can actually be harmful, if the cow can’t hold its own weight, and can result in skin, muscle, or bone damage.
Rolling is a safer process for the cow and simpler to carry out. It helps reduce stress on the limbs until a cow is ready to stand.
Often down cows can’t roll themselves and one back leg (the weaker one) will take all their weight. This can reduce that leg’s circulation.
It doesn’t take long for a 500kg animal to worsen muscle damage lying down on the same area.
If she can’t roll herself she needs to be rolled two to four times a day. If a cow keeps sitting on the same leg after rolling you can use hay or silage bales to help prop her in place on the correct side.
It’s best to allocate one team member to roll and care for the cow. In cold and wet conditions, down cows need to be kept warm. If their body temperatures drop, so does their feed intake.
Energy levels then fall, making a bad situation worse. A cow cover, tarp, or using hay as a bed or a cover are all options to keep her warm.
You’ll also need to provide food and water that is easy to eat and reach, and pain relief if needed.
Molasses, starter, or energy drenches also help to provide energy, and metabolic support through bags given intravenously may also be useful.
Many farms will have new team members on board so it’s important that everyone discusses and understands how to care for down cows before it gets busy onfarm.
If the cow doesn’t get up within a few days or you’re not sure about her condition or treatment, call your vet.


  1. Tuck the cow’s legs in: the closer they are to her body, the better.
  2. Roll the cow over: stay low, bend your knees and push from her hips if possible, grab a teammate to help push from her shoulders, avoid injuring yourself in the process.
  3. Pull the cow’s legs back out: each time you roll her, flex and extend her back legs afterwards to help with blood flow. Repeat two to four times daily.
  • More information on down-cow care, and when and how to lift cows, is available at
  • Caroline Benson is a DairyNZ consulting officer in Taranaki.