Every time that I have an animal die, I debate with myself whether or not to bring it for post-mortem.

I am sure a lot of farmers have the same quandary. You wonder if they will be able to detect anything, although I am the type of person that likes to have some kind of clarity.

My problem is that I live so far away from any of the labs that do post-mortems. It takes me roughly three hours round trip and on top of that, I have found most deaths seem to happen at the weekend when the lab is closed.

Down through the years I have been to the lab a lot, and I have found that the best chance of finding out why the animal died is if you get it to the lab quickly after death. So I tend not to bother going if I cannot go immediately.


Last week, I found a cow lying dead on the slats. She was a 10-year-old cow with a calf at foot, about five months old. She had scanned back in-calf about four weeks ago, so while the cow was getting on a bit in age, she was still working hard and doing all that was asked.

When I found the cow, rigor mortis had not set in, and it was as if she had just dropped dead. We pulled her out of the pen and then it was decision time.

Between my sons and I, we tried to think what might have caused the death, but none of us had a good answer. It was a Tuesday morning, and we were not overly busy so I had the time to take the cow for a post mortem.

I wondered, with COVID-19, whether the lab would be accepting dead animals, so I decided to call my own vet for advice. They told me that the lab was open and advised me to take the animal there.

I loaded her up on the trailer and set off, but by this stage I had convinced myself that it would be a wasted journey.


It was a strange experience at the lab, as I was not allowed out of my car. I had to shout all the information out through the window while wearing a mask.

With living and working on the farm all day every day I am blissfully unaware about how difficult it must be for all the essential workers who have to constantly wear a mask, and try to keep socially distant. I got a small glimpse of that at the lab, and it highlighted to me just how much these essential workers deserve all our credit.


Anyway, that was her delivered and the waiting began. A couple of days later there was still no word, but the next day I got a call from the vet and to my surprise the cow had died from a lack of magnesium/grass tetany.

To be honest I did not really think that you could get grass tetany in the house, but my vet informed me that you can, and the advice was to feed high-magnesium minerals.


This cow had got a magnesium bolus while at grass, and was also offered lick buckets while outside. When in the house, she was fed good silage and meal.

After scanning, I reduced the meal and then, about two weeks ago, I moved them on to third-cut bales.

Any one of these could have been a contributing factor. The meal had very low levels of magnesium so probably was not a lot of help. However, it seems more likely that the third-cut bales were very low in minerals, and this was a major contributing factor.

Added to that, the fact that she was a hard-working cow seemed to tip her over the edge.

One way or the other I have had to re-think my feeding strategy. I am now feeding high-magnesium minerals on top of the silage to this group of animals. It is lesson learnt.

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