Why is My Cow Losing Weight?

Things seem to be going great on the homestead with all your cows until, one day, you notice one of your precious animals looking decidedly leaner than the others.

Texas longhorn cattle
Texas longhorn cattle

You don’t think too much of it but then it seems that, no matter what you do, the poor animal continues to shed the pounds. Not good. There must be a reason, and you need to get to the bottom of it. Why is your cow suddenly losing weight?

Cows could lose weight for a number of reasons: metabolic conditions, infectious diseases, parasites, poor nutrition, stress, and cancer. Invariably it s because they are using more calories than they are storing.

Knowing the reasons why a cow might lose weight and then using common sense to help zero in on the cause is important if you want to head off genuine problems early.

If you want to get your cow back on the road to good health, you need to find out which one of these is the problem. You can learn more below.

How Much Should an Average Adult Cow Weigh?

Different breeds of cows will, of course, mature at different sizes but, in general, an average-sized adult cow should weigh about 1,400 pounds according to Beef Magazine.

There are a lot of variables that can affect a cow’s weight such as age, gender, breed, and whether the animal is pregnant or lactating.

You need to take these variables into account when you are trying to determine if your cow is underweight.

What are Some Common Reasons Cows Might Lose Weight?

Cows can lose weight for all kinds of reasons, and many of them are not good. If you notice your cow looking thinner than usual, it’s important to try and figure out the root cause of the problem as soon as possible.

Some of the most common reasons cows might lose weight include:

1. Metabolic conditions

Cows with metabolic conditions like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can often lose weight even though they are eating the same amount of food as usual.

These conditions can be treated with medicines and sometimes with supplements or elimination of aggravating factors, but other times might prove to be a permanent factor in a cow’s overall health and weight.

2. Infectious diseases

Cows that are infected with diseases like bovine viral diarrhea or bovine tuberculosis often lose weight as their appetite diminishes and they become too weak to eat properly.

Some diseases are known for causing precipitous weight loss and added stress, such as Johne’s disease. These diseases must be treated quickly and aggressively to maximize the chances of recovery.

3. Parasites

Cows that are infected with internal parasites like stomach worms or liver flukes often suffer from weight loss as well.

The parasites rob the cows of vital nutrients, which can lead to anemia, diarrhea, and general weakness.

External parasites like lice can also cause a cow to scratch and bite at her skin so much that she loses hair. Both can cause discomfort or pain, and both cause stress which can lead to weight loss on their own.

4. Poor Nutrition

If a cow is not getting enough of the right nutrients in its diet, it will start to lose weight. This is often the case when cows are pasture-fed on poor-quality grass or hay.

It can also happen if cows are given too much grain or other concentrate feed without enough forage. In any case, too few calories for their daily needs will lead to weight loss in all cases.

5. Cancer

Cancers in cows can cause weight loss for a number of reasons. Tumors can block the passage of food through the digestive system, leading to malabsorption.

They can also rob the cow of vital nutrients and energy as they grow. In some cases, cancer itself produces hormones that can lead to weight loss.

Regardless of the reason, cancers that cause weight loss need to be treated quickly and aggressively.

6. Stress

Cows that are under stress for any reason may lose weight in the short term or for the indefinite future.

From things like transportation or being moved to a new pasture can often lose weight as their appetite diminishes and they become less active.

As you can see, there are many potential reasons why your cow might be losing weight. Some of these reasons are easy enough to correct, but others will require serious effort and maybe even medical intervention, if they can be corrected at all.

How Can You Tell if Your Cow is Losing Weight?

The best way to tell if your cow is losing weight is to keep track of her body condition score. This is a numeric score on a scale of 1 to 9 that indicates how much body fat a cow has.

Cows with a body condition score of 5 are considered to be in “ideal” body condition, while those with a score of 3 are considered to be thin and those with a score of 7 are considered to be overweight.

You can keep track of your cow’s body condition score yourself by doing regular visual inspections and/or by using a measuring tool like a Body Condition Scoring Sticks.

If you’re unsure about how to properly use these tools, you can always ask your veterinarian for help.

Another way to tell if your cow is losing weight is to simply weigh her on a regular basis. This can be done with a livestock scale.

What are the Consequences of Weight Loss?

Weight loss in cows can have a number of consequences, some of which are more serious than others.

The most obvious direct consequence of weight loss as livestock is that the cow will produce less milk or have less meat available when slaughtered.

This can obviously have a serious impact on your bottom line if you’re running a dairy operation or raising cows for beef.

Weight loss can also lead to other indirect consequences, such as increased susceptibility to disease.

This is because the cow’s immune system will be weaker when she’s malnourished and her body lacks the resources to stave off illness.

Additionally, the cow’s body will be under more stress when it’s trying to maintain its weight, which can also lead to health problems.

In some cases, weight loss can even be fatal, as vital organs will use up muscles and connective tissues as emergency fuel when all the fat is gone.

Is Weight Loss Always a Serious Thing for Cows?

Not always, but it can be.

In some cases, weight loss can be a normal and healthy part of a cow’s life cycle. For example, it’s not uncommon for dairy cows to lose a bit of weight during the early stages of lactation as their bodies adjust to producing milk.

Similarly, beef cattle that are being fattened up for slaughter will often go through a period of weight loss as they switch from a diet of forage to a diet of grain.

Weight loss can also be caused by things like normal exercise and digestive problems that eventually resolve themselves.

However, if your cow is losing weight for no apparent reason or if the weight loss is severe, then it’s definitely something that you should be concerned about.

How Can You Prevent Weight Loss?

The best way to prevent weight loss is to make sure that your cows are getting the proper nutrition and that they aren’t suffering from any unseen ailments that could harm them or stress them out.

This means feeding them a balanced diet of good-quality forage, grain, and other concentrates. It’s also important to make sure that they have access to clean water at all times.

If you think that your cow might be sick, it’s important to have her checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible and you yourself should be familiar with all symptoms of common bovine maladies.

Early diagnosis and treatment of diseases can often prevent serious weight loss and other complications.

What Should You Do if Your Cow is Dropping a Lot of Weight?

If you think that your cow might be losing too much weight, the first step is to take her body condition score.

If she’s lost a noticeable amount of weight, then you’ll need to take action to try to correct the problem. Again, any sudden or seemingly unexplained weight loss is cause for an immediate call to the vet.

The best way to combat weight loss caused by anything aside from simple stress or other easily explained reasons is to work with your veterinarian to develop a plan. This may involve changes to the cow’s diet, supplements, or medication.

In some cases, it may even be necessary to provide extra calories in the form of high-fat feeds like corn oil or molasses.

No matter what, it’s important to be proactive when it comes to your cows’ weight and nutrition.

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