The recent release of a video – taken by a member of an animal activist group showing potential abuse of a down dairy cow – has stimulated significant discussion within the dairy industry. For veterinarians, the video has also initiated many questions from our dairy farmer clients on how to handle downed cows: “What is the best way to get a down cow out of the parlor; the return alley; a stall; or whatever situation or location a cow can get herself?”

This led us to conduct an in-depth review of regulations and guidelines covering animal handling. After a review of more than 1,000 pages, we found consistent documentation stating it is vital to provide cattle with food, water, shelter and veterinary assistance when necessary.

With regards to the judicious handling of a down cow, the following information was available:

  • Electrical devices (hot-shots) should only be used in extreme circumstances, when all other techniques have failed, and should never be applied to sensitive areas such as the face, genitalia, or mucous membranes.
  • She can be moved on a sled or in an appropriately sized bucket of a skid loader (minimum of 6 feet wide) with proper restraints.
  • A hip hoist can be used to help her stand, but not to move her.
  • A sling can be used to help her stand or move her short distances.

While this was not an abundance of specific information, it was enough to establish a practical approach to moving down cows. By working with our dairy farmer clients and other veterinarians, we identified problem areas where a cow could go down. From there, we developed a written plans, or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), on how to appropriately move her. These plans adhered to the guidelines above as much as possible, but also focused on key areas on dairies – parlors, return alleys, stalls, chutes and footbaths.

From these guidelines, and for clarity of communication with farm employees responsible for implementing those SOPs, we developed the “Three A’s for Moving a Down Cow”:

Click here to read mroe about the 3 A’s: Attitude, Approach, and Application

Michael Costin, DVM, is Professional Services Veterinarian with ANIMART, Inc., Beaver Dam, Wis. Contact him via email: For additional information, visit