Use of hip clamps for recumbent cattle
Policy type: Policy
Date ratified: 1 March 2013
Hip clamps should only be used as specified in the Animal Welfare (Dairy Cattle) Code of Welfare 2010.
The use of hip clamps for the lifting and support of recumbent cattle is warranted only under certain clinical conditions and only with due consideration for the welfare of the animal involved. While veterinarians seldom use hip clamps themselves, many practices have such clamps available for their clients, and need to be able to give advice on appropriate use.
Hip clamps are most effective when they are used to help lift recumbent cows that are bright and alert and do not have underlying problems such as fractures or a dislocated hip. They are generally useful when a cow is weak and unable to rise (due to milk fever, calving paralysis or having been cast, for example) but, once given appropriate treatment, is likely to support her weight when raised. Cows that have been down for long periods of time are unlikely to be helped by hip clamps as muscle damage prevents them from taking their weight. In some circumstances such as fractured legs or dislocated hips, the use of hip clamps is contraindicated, therefore every effort should be made to arrive at a correct diagnosis before hip clamps are used.
Where hip clamps are used for the lifting of recumbent cattle, it is possible that severe distress, injury and bruising may occur if adequate precautions are not taken.
Animal Welfare (Dairy Cattle) Code of Welfare 2010
This Code has a section (5.9) devoted to the care of recumbent cows, including minimum standards and recommended best practices (see Appendix). The NZVA encourages practitioners to have copies of this particular section available to hand out when hip clamps are lent out.
- When considering the use of hip clamps, a clinical examination should be carried out to eliminate the presence of conditions such as hip dislocation and fractures in which their use would be contraindicated.
- If hip clamps are to be used for lifting recumbent cattle, they should be put on over light padding and made tight to avoid slipping or extra bruising. The hip clamps themselves should also be padded using plastic, rubber or foam tubing.
- The rear of the animal should be lifted to a point where the hind feet are just touching the ground so that weight bearing can take place.
- If, after taking the weight of the rear of the animal on the hip clamps, the cow can not be persuaded to take weight on the fore legs, the use of hip clamps should be discontinued.
- If the cow is not fully weight bearing after 5 minutes, the hip clamps should be removed.
- Hip clamps should not be left on any longer than 10 minutes and should be loosened and then removed as soon as the cow is bearing weight.
- Repeated use is only acceptable if bruising and distress are minimal, some indication of progress is evident and the diagnosis of the cow’s clinical condition continues to warrant such use. External skin bruising is not necessarily an indicator of the degree of underlying muscle damage.
- For further information refer to the Animal Welfare (Dairy Cattle) Code of Welfare 2010, Section 5.9 Caring for Recumbent Cows (see appendix).
- Flotation tanks and air mattresses have been used successfully in support of recumbent cattle without causing pressure damage.
Appendix: Animal Welfare (Dairy Cattle) Code of Welfare 2010
5.9 Caring for Recumbent Cows
There are a number of conditions and practices relating to nursing recumbent dairy cattle that can significantly compromise the welfare of the animals involved. The management of lifting cows with hip clamps or slings needs to be done correctly to prevent pain or possible injury.
Minimum Standard No. 16 – caring for Recumbent Cows
(a) If hip clamps are used they must be removed if the cow cannot promptly support her own weight.
(b) Cows must not be transported so that all [their] weight is carried by the hip clamps and vehicle.
(c) Cows suspended in a sling must be able to breathe freely, not suffer unnecessary discomfort, and be lowered from the sling if they are unable to support their own weight after one hour.
Recommended best practice
(a) Any cow that is unable to stand should receive veterinary attention within 48 hours of becoming recumbent or be destroyed humanely. Recumbent cows need to be inspected frequently, kept in an upright position (i.e. lying on their sternum with legs tucked under the body), and shifted from side to side as often as possible.
(b) Flotation technology for recumbent cows should be used as a preferred method.
(c) Cows that are unable to stand should be kept on soft ground.
(d) Where hip clamps are used, the following guidelines should be followed:
i. prior to their application, a veterinary examination should be made to rule out conditions that will not respond and that will only increase pain and distress for the cow
ii. the hip clamps should be padded and applied firmly, to prevent slipping and bruising
iii. the rear of the animal should be lifted to a point where the feet are touching the ground, so that weight bearing can take place
iv. if, after taking the weight of the animal on the hip clamps, the cow cannot be persuaded to take weight on the forelegs, the use of the clamps should be discontinued
v. if an animal has failed to respond initially, she should be allowed to rest for a period before hip clamps are tried again.
(e) Where cow slings are used:
i. suspended animals should be inspected frequently
ii. no more than two suspending sequences in a day should be attempted.
Hip clamps are most effective in the early stages of milk fever or post-calving paralysis, particularly when the cow is showing signs of a response to treatment. Careful diagnosis is important, as the use of a hip clamp is not appropriate where there is a fractured leg, pelvis or hip dislocation.
Repeated use of hip clamps is only acceptable if bruising and distress are minimal, some indication of progress is evident, and the clinical condition of the cow continues to warrant such use. (Note that external skin bruising is not necessarily an indication of underlying muscle damage).
Cow slings are designed to suspend the recumbent cow so that circulation in the limbs is improved. They are not suitable as an aid for the cow to stand up, because pressure on the lower abdomen of the cow triggers a reflex that relaxes her leg muscles when using such a device.
Prolonged use of the sling is only acceptable if bruising and distress are minimal, some indication of progress is evident, and the diagnosis of the clinical condition of the cow continues to warrant such use.