How to Float a Cow

Quick Overview: How Does It Work?

Back the Aqua Cow tank to the cow and remove the end doors. Get the cow on the drag mat, and then pull it into the tank with the winch or a tractor. Remount the end doors. If the cow is to be floated at another location, tow her there in the tank. Pump in body temperature water. The cow senses the lifting undercurrent, wants to stay ahead of it, and uses it to get herself up. Then, is she well enough to stay in the tank? If she is, feed and cover her and leave her in for 8 - 14 hrs.

When it's time to let her out, drain the water slowly so she becomes re-accustomed to her full weight. Let her stand in the tank without water for 30 - 40 minutes. This is a good time to remove the back door and to milk her. She should exit very slowly, one foot at a time. Give her time to regain her full strength. Putting her back on cement too early is a mistake.

Requirements:

Labor: Two people are needed.
Space: If the downer is to be retrieved in the Aqua tank, or floated inside, the barn door and alleyway should be 7ft. wide to allow for the Aqua tank's 6.5ft. wheelbase. The box itself is 8 x 4 x 4.

Additional equipment:

  1. A vehicle to tow the tank, although with the hand truck the Aqua tank, with cow inside, rolls easily over hard surfaces
  2. Equipment to heat, hold, and pump 650g of water.
    ( Large dairies may have enough warm water and water pressure without extra equipment.) [See Water Systems]

Using the Aqua tank to move the cow has many advantages:

How to Float a Cow

Instructions

I . Retrieving the down cow

Setting-up to pull the cow inside.
Do you need to move her to another location? Or will you float her where she is?

You can pull the cow in with the winch (slides over tongue) or with a tractor or skidsteer. The difference is that using the winch allows the wheels to remain engaged for transporting the cow to another place. Using a tractor requires more steps (1) pulling the front pins to drop the tank and raise the trailer and (2) after the cow is pulled inside, re-engaging the wheels by pulling the chassis back down and reinserting the pins. Of course, if the cow is to be floated where she is, then a tractor may be easier because the tank sits on the ground right there.

Using the winch - wheels stay engaged for transporting cow

  1. Remove the two end doors.
  2. Take out the drag mat and all other free parts.
  3. Back the Aqua tank as closely to the cow as conditions permit. (It rolls and steers easily with the handtruck if space is too tight for a tractor or skidsteer.)
  4. Lift the tongue until the back end of the tank meets the ground.
  5. Use the mounted jack to hold the front end in this position.
  6. Place the ramp (mounted on the left side of the Aqua tank) at the back end.
  7. Unwind the winch's cable, pulling the grab hook through the tank so that it will hook to the mat's chain once the cow is on the mat.

Using a tractor - wheels disengaged for floating cow where she is.
Moving the cow requires reconnecting the trailer.

  1. Same steps 1,2, & 3 above.
  2. To drop the tank on the ground, pull the two front corner pins anchoring the trailer beams to the tank. Down pressure on the trailer tongue releases the tension on the two pins. The trailer tongue itself must be able to wiggle and shouldn't be on the ground bearing weight. With the pins out, the entire trailer assembly releases and swivels upward, dropping the box to the ground.|

    Caution: Once the 2nd pin is out, the unit swings up quickly!! Two people should do this, one to pull the pin and the other to hold down the trailer and let it rise gradually.

  3. Keep raising the tongue, lifting the beams up and past the front door until the pins can be reinserted into the two pipes welded along the tank's top edges, securing the whole assembly. Usually two people are needed.

Getting the cow on the mat.

In terms of the tank, it doesn't matter if she is pulled in head first or tail first. Just place the scooped front door at her head. The important factor is that she exit where you want her to recover.

  1. Put on a rope halter.
  2. If possible, get her to crawl on the mat so she's on her chest.
  3. If the cow's in no mood or position to cooperate, you'll need to roll or slide her on the mat. A good technique is to hobble her back legs to create a handle. Then, as one person pulls her head back with the rope halter and the other grabs the hobbles, they start rolling the cow over, say about 70 degrees, her legs now waving in the air. A 3rd helper quickly pulls the dragmat underneath, and the cow is released back down. Give the back legs freedom to tuck under so the cow can right herself properly on the mat. Remember to take off the hobbles.
  4. If the cow is on her side (a bad sign), you can roll her 180 degrees onto the mat.

Important! Be sure the cow's rear end does not hang over the end of the mat. Moving the cow once she's inside is difficult and the back door must slide down. Turning her neck with the rope halter makes room for the front door.

Pulling the cow into the Aqua Cow tank.

  1. If the cow is active, pull her head back and tie the rope halter to her back leg. This will also keep her from sliding back. One person should hold her as the other winches.
  2. At first the tank will roll towards the cow as slack is taken up. Then the mat and cow will start sliding inside. As the cow comes in, the person holding her should prevent udder, limbs or spine from catching on the sides.
  3. Stop winching when the mat is within the two floor brackets. Slide the mat's two end chains underneath the end floor brackets. These "chain locks" prevent the mat from bunching beneath the cow.

Remounting the end doors.

  1. Replace the front door first to keep the cow from crawling out.
  2. Make sure the gaskets are in place and the seams free of debris. Apply pressure against each lever with a hand or knee and hand tighten the "T" bolt.
  3. To lower the tank, lift up the tongue, pull out the jack's pin, and let the chassis down. Towing the cow to the selected place.

Choosing a good place is critical. It must provide:

  1. good footing for the cow's exit and recovery period
  2. shelter and isolation
  3. access to the warm water source
  4. access to a milking machine, if possible

The cow's weight over the axle balances the trailer. It lifts and tows easily. ATVs are handy in a freestall. You can tow her on the road with your pick-up. (Some vet schools bring the cow back to their large animal clinics in the tank.)

II Floating the cow

[Note: Users quickly adopt the phrase "float her", but the word "float" is misleading. You don't want your cow floating. Only seriously injured or sick cows come close to floating because they're too weak or pained to bear any weight. Healthier cows, those belonging in the tank, only need an assist from water stand. ].

Dropping the tank to the ground. [Switching from transport to float position.]

A slight grade to the ground is even better than a flat place. If possible, slope the tank slightly toward the back so that the water almost overflows there instead of at the lower front door.

  1. Pull the two front corner pins anchoring the trailer beams to the tank. Downpressure on the trailer tongue releases the tension on the two pins. The trailer tongue itself must be able to wiggle and shouldn't be on the ground bearing weight. With the pins out, the entire trailer assembly releases and swivels upward, dropping the box to the ground.

    Caution: Once the 2nd pin is out, the unit swings up quickly!! Two people should do this, one to pull the pin and the other to hold down the trailer and let it rise gradually.

  2. Keep raising the tongue, lifting the beams up and past the front door until the pins can be reinserted into the two pipes welded along the tank's top edges, securing the whole assembly. Usually two people are needed. If space is tight in a hospital room or tie-stall barn, the whole trailer assembly unhooks and rolls away, leaving just the box.

Pumping the water... raising the cow.

The water must be pumped in rapidly for the cow to respond to its lift. A garden hose @ 5gpm is inadequate; the cow lies in a puddle for too long. The two standard ways of pumping water are: (1) pump from a transfer tank and (2) fill directly from milk house hoses (large dairies).

  1. Pumping from a transfer tank is the normal way. A small 2" gas pump delivers about 150gpm. Use quick-connects to attach the hoses to the pump and the discharge hose to the valve at the Aqua tank's lower back right corner. Or simply hang the hose over the side and hold on.
  2. Many large dairies pump water directly from the milk house, thus bypassing the need for extra water equipment. Usually two hoses are used, one with plate cooler water and the other from the hot water tank. At a minimum the total water pressure should be 25gpm., thus allowing about 30 minutes to fill the tank. Keep the hot water hose away from the cow.
  3. Check for door leaks when there are several inches of water in the tank. Any dripping will stop as water pressure builds against the seals. But a steady stream of water means the door gaskets are loose or bothered by debris. Stop the pump, drain the water, and correct the problem. A few handfuls of corn silage will also plug a leak.
  4. Important: If the cow is pulled in on her side, hold up her head with the rope halter until the water provides enough ballast to help her to shift around and lie properly. A tight halter will also prevent her from thrashing and banging.
  5. Assist Standing. Try to keep the cow from drifting forward & turning her neck back. Otherwise let her respond to the rising water. Once the cow is upright, the rest is up to her. As the water starts to cover her big barrel, it starts lifting her and she responds by trying to stand. If the tank is 3/4 full and she still has trouble getting her legs beneath her, give her a push and/or stop the pump and reposition her. If she stays passive in deep water (a bad sign), putting her nose under for a second will get a response. The way she gets herself up and stands tells much about her condition and potential for recovery. Every condition and every cow is different. Some cows will try standing early; others won't. Some will try to get up normally - back end first. Others sit up like huge dogs and need a lot of water before testing the injured back quarters.
  6. Fill the Aqua Cow tank within a few inches of the top. Maximum comfort and support for shorter animals may be found at a lower water level. Use your judgment.

III Leaving her in the tank

The question now: is the cow well enough to stay in the Aqua Cow tank?

  1. Does she want to eat? Attach the feed rack and offer her good hay.
  2. Does she stand comfortably? If the cow is obviously in trouble after 20 minutes - not eating, floundering, unable to bear weight on a limb, perhaps hunched or asymmetrical... then don't abandon her in the tank and hope for a miracle. Drain the water.
  3. Don't tie her head tightly to the Aqua tank. If she's in danger of floating or sinking she shouldn't be in the tank anyway. Small animals should be loosely tied to keep them from trying to turn around.

How long should she stay in the Aqua tank?

8 - 14 hrs. is a broad estimate. A lot depends upon the time of day she goes in, and on your schedule. Early or late in the day is a better time to float her than mid-day because the exit times are convenient.

Covering in colder weather

  1. Unless the air is mild, say 60f or higher, use the top brackets and tarp to retain heat. Covered like this, a large cow can keep her bath warm for hours even in chilly temperatures.
  2. A heifer or smaller animal can't radiate her own bath like a big cow can. One option is adding hot water and draining cooler water a few hours after she's been put in the tank. Another option is warming the tank with a 20lb propane shop heater. Aqua Cow also offers a built-in water heater for maintaining temperature in cold weather. (For these options, see...).

IV Helping her to exit the Aqua tank

  1. Open the valve to drain the water. Use a hose to carry the water away from the area. Slowly the cow will bear more weight. Standing without water is an encouraging indicator for recovery.
  2. Leave her standing in the tank without any water for at least 20 minutes. She needs to get used to her weight again before walking. This is a good time to remove the back door and to milk her.
  3. What if she goes down with the water? Most cows that go down with the water have serious problems. There's a big difference between the cow that goes down with the water and a cow that simply lies down. The 1st cow either has a terminal injury or needs treatment. The 2nd cow may get up when it suits her. The tank is a good place for her to try standing.

Walking out

Do not hurry this process. Be patient. This is the one time when your role makes a big difference - the difference between a cow that stumbles and falls, and one that stands on the ground and wants to keep standing.

Cows are nervous anyway when stepping from one surface to another. The cow's injury makes her more tentative. Trying to lead the cow out often has the opposite result; she can pull away and belly flop. Ensuring a slow exit is the most crucial part of this entire process. Don't lose what's been gained. To prevent the cow from lunging or slipping, limit her to one step at a time until all four hooves are on the ground. Here is one method that works:

  1. Get some help if you're dealing with a flighty heifer or cow.
  2. Remove the front door and hold it a few inches outside the tank as a barrier.
  3. Continuing to block her way with the door, slowly retreat a couple of steps, allowing the cow enough room for only one step. You want to prevent her from jumping. Coax her out with a tug on the lead rope or a dish of grain.
  4. Let her take the first step, then the next. When both of her front hooves are outside, step back with the door and let her come out on her own.
  5. Once she's standing outside, see if she can be walked. Exercise will build on what has been gained.

Let her recover fully before putting her back on cement or with other cows. -