I met an interesting case last week that involved a first-time calving heifer with high promise of milk yield. The mother used to give 36 litres of milk per day and the father, otherwise called sire, was recorded to have had daughters that gave 40 litres daily.
The owner, therefore, had a scientifically sound expectation of the heifer to produce 30 to 40 litres of milk per day in the second or third lactation. I received the phone report from Kimani, the farm manager, saying the heifer had calved the previous day but was only producing milk from the left hind quarter.
The rest of the udder was heavily swollen but with normal temperature, according to his feel of the palm. The animal’s rectal temperature was within the normal range. “What kind of mastitis would this be doctor?” Kimani wondered?
The description necessitated me to examine the cow physically. The animal was happy and eating well when I arrived on the farm. It had already been restrained at the milking parlour. I noticed the right eye was infected but that had nothing to do with the milk issues. I made a note to give an eye ointment.
The temperature and other vital parameters were normal. Upon examining the udder, it was heavily swollen with the back part being reddened and containing some fluid. It would form the impressions of my fingers on pressure but was not painful.
I concluded that was due to pregnancy oedema, a condition characterised either by swelling on the udder or lower side of the abdomen next to the udder and umbilicus. The swelling is caused by heavy supply of blood to the udder, which increases pressure and causes fluid to leave the blood vessels and be retained in the tissues.
Physiological oedema is normal and resolves a few days after calving. If it is excessive, reabsorption of the fluid in the tissues can be accelerated by massaging the udder with warm water twice a day to enhance blood flow. This causes the fluid to move back into the blood vessels and reduce the swelling.
“Kanini’s swelling is due to the pregnancy and retention of milk but we shall know the issue with milk release once I examine the teats,” I told Kimani as I started washing them. I first milked the left hind teat and the milk flowed freely.
All the other three teats became heavily engorged with milk and they stuck out of the udder turgidly as though they were daring me to milk them.
When I squeezed each of them, two produced tiny milk drops. The milk inside the teats felt fully fluid and the cow definitely enjoyed my attempts at stripping out the milk. She was very quiet and cooperative.
The last teat produced no milk but the contents inside felt normal. I informed Kimani there w