How to tell your cow’s health from its dung

Dear DaktariThanks for the educative Saturday pieces on animal health. My cow is about to give birth but I have observed that its dung is too dry of late. could this be a cause for alarm?

Elizabeth Othieno, Kakamega County

My mother my reader

Whenever I travel home, my mother insists that I observe her cow. Most of the time it is not that there is normally any problem but just because I am a veterinary doctor she is always happy when I comply with her request. I was recently home and as expected, she requested that I have a look at her cow. The only history I was given was that it is about to calve down and has been producing very hard dung.

So many things to be learned from cow dung

Yes, it is true that cow dung waste is something most farmers do not pay a lot of attention to. I know many are concerned with loose or watery fecal waste which is indicative of a diarrhea and thus an underlying disease.

Colour is mostly indicative of feed type and intestinal infections.

Dung colour normally vary from dark green for animals on fresh forage and pasture to brown for cows on dry hay. Brightly coloured dung is from high quality forage. Cows on lots of concentrates will produce yellowish poop. Bloody cow dung is indicative of infections from diseases like coccidiosis of intestinal worms. Coccidiosis will produce bloody feaces and salmonellosis will produce foul smelling poop with lots of mucus. 

Note that if a herd of cows are on the same feed type and one produces dung with different consistency that is reason enough to isolate it and investigate the cause.

Dung Texture

Dung texture refers to the hardness or softness. Dung texture is linked to moisture and fiber content of the feed. Dung from lactating cows is generally soft and will form a pile about 2 to 4 centimetres. Very soft dung is also associated with diets that contain lots of proteins, inadequate fiber, mineral salts imbalances, parasites, poisoning, parasitic infections or heat stress.

On the other hand, hard dung is indicative of little protein diet or lots of fiber. Dehydration is another common cause for hard feces.

Dung Component

Foreign particles in the feces is indicative of poor animal husbandry. This may include stone pebbles, pieces of wood, undigested feeds or grains. They can also be undigested feeds and this is caused by various factors. One is due to a problem in the digestive system especially the rumen or poor feeds processing. Undigested feed particles are a loss to farmers since they are not going into building of the animal body for milk production as it should.

Other foreign components may be worms fragments. If this is observed it simply means you need to deworm the animal.

My diagnosis

My mother’s problem was simple and it can be easily replicated in many other farms at the moment. It is currently very dry and most farmers are feeding their animals on hay, or other dry feeds. This is made worse by equally inadequate water intake occasioned by water scarcity.

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Cow dung