Raising livestock can be challenging. Even with the best management, animals can become sick. Knowing when you have a healthy animal is easy. They’re bright, alert, responsive to their environment, have a shiny hair coat and a good appetite. But do you know when your animals not doing well? Do you know when you should call your veterinarian? Hi, I’m Dr Lisa Lowen. Extension veterinarian for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Knowing your animal’s normal behaviour and vital signs are an important step in knowing when they’re healthy or not healthy. It’s also crucial that you have a good working relationship with a local veterinarian that can come out when you need them to assess your animal.
Together, you guys can put together a great working relationship for good herd health and overall productivity and longevity of your herd. How do you know if your animals are sick? Generally speaking, anytime their behaviour is off, you should investigate. Ask yourself, are they separating themselves away from the rest of the herd. animals that are sick spend a lot of time by themselves, they may not come up to the feed bunk to eat, they may be seeking solitude in the woods. So you need to check those animals out. Also, look at their general appearance in terms of cleanliness. animals that are not feeling well spend a lot of time lying down, and they may have their flanks covered with dirt and manure. And if they’re the only animal in the herd that looks like that. It’s a good indication that they’re not feeling well. If you have an animal that cannot stand and their recumbent that needs immediate veterinary attention.
Similarly, if you’re seeing any neurologic signs of the animal laying on its side and paddling its legs. If it’s having a seizure, or if it appears blind, you should contact your veterinarian for advice. Also if you have an animal that can stand, but it’s non-weight bearing on one limb that requires immediate attention because there’s a serious lameness issue going on. Eating and drinking is an important part of overall animal health. But sometimes when you have animals out on pasture, you may not know if they’ve been eating. Luckily for us, ruminants have designed an easy way for us to tell. If you go to the left side of the animal, there’s a little triangular area called the parallel lumbar fossa. And we’ve outlined this with some tape.
It starts at the last rib goes across to the hip bone, and then forms a nice little triangle, the rumen or the big large fermentation, that compartment of the stomach lies directly below this parallel lumbar fossa. If the animal has been eating, there’ll be food in the rumen. And this parallel bar fossa will be distended to about the level of the last rib. If the animal has not been eating, this area will become sunken and there will be a very visible triangular indent in the side of the animal. Now again, this is on the left side because that’s where the rumen is on the body. If you notice that your animal has this triangular indent pushed greatly out and they’re having trouble breathing.
That indicates that we’ve got a condition called rumen bloat where there’s too much gas accumulating in that room, and that’s a medical emergency and you need to call your veterinarian right away. So when in doubt, if you’re not sure if your animals have been eating, look at the triangular area of the parallel lumbar fossa. And that will tell you animals that are not drinking enough soon become dehydrated. And as an owner, there’s an easy way for you to check to see if your animals becoming dehydrated. If we grab the skin on the neck and retract it, just pull it gently and let go. It should bounce right back to its normal position. If the skin stays tented after you pull it, that indicates that the animals are dehydrated. You can also do this over the eye and grab the skin over the eye and it should bounce right back.
And then with ruminant animals, animals that chew their cud, there’s also a special thing that happens with them. When they become severely dehydrated, the eye will retract away from the skull and kind of sink back into the head. Some farmers refer to this as being sunken eyes. So if you see that the eyeball itself is sinking back into the skull, that’s a sign of severe dehydration and your veterinarian should be contacted so that fluids can be administered to your animal. It’s always important to monitor urination and defecation in the animals. If you have a male animal and you observe them stretching out with their back legs behind them straining to urinate, you may or may not see urine actually dripping from the previews. But if it’s not a full constant stream of urine, that’s a problem that indicates that they have some sort of urinary tract obstruction and they need immediate medical attention because without it, their bladder will continue to fill with urine and it can potentially rupture. In terms of desiccation. It depends on what kind of ruminant you have. For sheep and goats. They have pelleted faeces and it should remain a normal pellet.
If the pellet becomes loose, clumped or watery diarrhoea That’s a big problem for cattle if it becomes projectile diarrhoea most definitely a problem that warrants having your veterinarian come out. If it’s looser than normal manure, and the animals losing a lot of weight, again, that indicates that you need to contact your veterinarian for an investigative workup. Pneumonia can be a common problem in farm animals. One way that you can tell if your animals having some respiratory issues is to take their respiratory rate. If you stand back and watch their chest move, each time that it moves will count as one respiration. Count that for a minute, and that will give you the respiratory rate. If you go to our website, we will have listings of all the different vital signs including respiratory rates for all the different farm animal species.
Another part of looking to see if your animals having respiratory problems is to check out their nose. A normal healthy animal will have a small amount of clear moisture around both nostrils. And the animal will also be licking their nose a lot to keep them clean farm animals like to keep food and dirt off of their nose. So if you see a lot of feet stuck to the nose, if you see thick mucus coming out or blood coming out, that indicates that you have some sort of respiratory problem and your veterinarian should be contacted so that they can work up the issue for you. One of the best things you can do as an owner is to get the vital signs of your animal before you call your veterinarian. That gives them a better idea of what may be going on before they come to your farm.
We talked about how you can get the respirations of the animal by counting the chest movements. The other thing you can do is to take a rectal temperature using a regular digital thermometer inserted into the rectum. When it beeps, pull it out, read the temperature and record it on a piece of paper. You can also get the heart rate back here, there’s an artery that runs in the middle of the tail. So if you put your hand about the level of the rectum, let your fingers fall into a natural groove that falls in the middle of the tail, wrap your thumb around just to help hold your fingers in place. And then gently put a little bit of pressure and count for 30 seconds or 15 seconds to get the heart rate per minute.
If you have trouble because the cow moving its tail too much, or they’re a little bit nervous having you hold it, you can also get the heart rate by listening to the heart. To do that, you’re going to need a stethoscope and you can buy an inexpensive, inexpensive stethoscope online or you may be able to buy one at your local Co Op. The heart is located behind the elbow of the animal. So you find the elbow at the top of the leg. And you’re going to take the headpiece of the stethoscope and press it deep underneath that elbow and hold it in place and again count for 15 seconds or 30 and you’ll be able to get the heart rate. You want to make sure that you tuck this in deep because if you don’t, you’re not going to hear the heart.
So once you get it in there, and you hear the rhythmic beating of the heart, again counting for 15 or 30 seconds, get the heart rate recorded, and then you’ll have some good information to give your veterinarian.