UBC reseacher Yanne Stojkov monitors Arkansas

How to float a cow

Researcher brings flotation system to Agassiz as part of study on downed cows

Cows that can’t stand up for whatever reason, often referred to as downed or downer cows, are not a unique problem for dairy farmers. But a unique method of treatment is sailing across the Fraser Valley and it’s giving farmers an alternative choice for cows that fall and can’t get back up.

The Aqua Cow Rise System is just what it sounds like: a giant bathtub for cows, using the buoyancy in water to alleviate the majority of a cow’s weight.

“Flotation treatment utilizes the buoyancy of water to lift recumbent cows, allowing them time to recover while only having to support 10 per cent of their body weight,” explains Yanne Stojkov, a researcher using this tool to study downed cows. “The buoyancy of the water allows the cow to stand comfortably.”

The joint study between the animal welfare program at UBC and AgWest Veterinary Group, which owns the Aqua Cow Rise System, began in January.

So far, Stojkov has taken the flotation tank to 17 farms, with his first stop in Agassiz last week at the Hatt Family Farm.

Arkansas, a holstein cow, became a downed cow after giving birth and suffering some nerve damage. Owner Karen Hatt explains that if a cow doesn’t get up on her own after 48 hours, there are few options farmers have to rehabilitate the cow. When the Hatts discussed the cow’s health with their veterinarian, he suggested they try out the Aqua Cow Rise System, currently being offered free to farmers to help the study.

When Arkansas was first put in the tank on Tuesday, April 21, she couldn’t move at all. After that first session, Arkansas remained standing when the water was drained eight hours later.

The next morning, Arkansas was found grazing in the field near the tank, before she was put back into the tank for a second session.

“We walked her in because she was already walking, to improve her condition,” explains Stojkov.

Farmer Jeremy Hatt reports that as of the morning of Tuesday, April 28, the cow was walking around. He says the flotation system could be a useful tool for farmers and veterinarians to assess what should be the next treatment steps for a cow.

“I’ve only used it once so it’s all I have to go by, but I think it does show how good it can be for assessing,” Hatt reports. “It’s worth it for sure, to at least give it a try.”

Stojkov says they hope by the end of the study to have enough data to analyze which cases of downed cows fare best with the flotation treatment. They are also hoping to develop some protocols on how a farmer might best deal with a downed cow.

“This is more equipment, more time, more effort,” says Stojkov. “But the water creates a more humane way to treat the cows.”

Previous studies of the flotation system for downed cows has varied from 40 to 70 per cent success rates.The method is already used in Europe, the U.S. and other parts of Canada. But, according to Stojkov, it is a newer concept here in the Fraser Valley.

So far, Stojkov has heard mostly positive comments from farmers.

“Even if they didn’t experience a good outcome, most would use it again,” her reports. “That’s good, taking into account this is a lengthy process setting up.”

For more information about the Aqua Cow Rise System please contact Agwest Veterinary Group. You can watch how the Aqua Cow Rise System equipment is used by going to YouTube and searching for “Agwest Dairy Float Tank”.