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Illness in Your Livestock

Illness and disease in animals can be very serious. If you keep animals on your small farm or homestead, you are responsible for keeping them well, both for their sake and your family’s. Your animals are a part of your lifestyle. Depending on what animals you keep, they may provide you with milk, eggs, meat, wool, or protection. The animals need you to survive and thrive, and in turn, you need them to meet some of your basic needs.

Your animals can’t talk to you and tell you that they don’t feel well. This means that you need to be aware of illnesses and diseases that they may have. You also need to be able to see the signs of these illnesses and then take action, whether you treat it yourself or turn to a veterinarian. There are many common diseases that can occur in your animals. Some are more serious than others, and those that are called zoonotic can be passed on to people. To keep your animals and your family healthy, learn about those common illnesses.

Poisonous Plants

Animals often know what they should eat and what they shouldn’t, but not always. There are certain plants that can be very toxic to all farm animals. You should be aware of what these plants are. If they are found where you keep your animals, you should try to remove the plants. If that is not feasible, you should watch your animals carefully to see if they eat it or ignore it. Also watch for signs of being poisoned. This includes anything out of the ordinary, like lethargy, not eating, losing weight, salivating excessively, and so on. Here are some common plants you may find around your farm that are poisonous:

  • Iris. This lovely flower can cause gastroenteritis if the leaves are consumed.
  • Holly. The berries of the holly can produce vomiting, diarrhea, and a stupor if consumed in large amounts.
  • Morning glory. The seeds of the morning glory are hallucinogenic and toxic. Sheep, cows, goats, and pigs are especially susceptible to poisoning by morning glory.
  • English ivy. This beautiful climbing plant will cause excessive salivation, nausea, excitement, diarrhea, and even coma in your animals if they eat it.
  • Wild cherry. Wild cherry is among the most common causes of farm animal poisoning. Animals often get access to the plant when branches are blown into their pen after a storm. The leaves are toxic and cause staggering, anxiety, convulsions, eye rolling, and dilated pupils. If it eats enough, the animal will die within a few hours.
  • Yew. Animals may nibble on this shrub, which leads to gastric distress, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, breathing difficulty, convulsions, coma, and eventually death. Few animals survive eating yew. You need to be very careful about this plant and keep it far from your animals.
  • Mountain laurel, rhododendron, and azalea. Each of these plants, whether wild or not, is extremely toxic to your animals. The symptoms of poisoning by one of these plants include excessive swallowing, anorexia, salivation, mouth watering, lethargy, slow pulse, low blood pressure, poor coordination, coma, and eventually death.

Bloat

Bloat most commonly occurs in cattle but can also affect sheep and goats. Cows burp often when they feed. You may not notice it, but they do. When the animals eat, bacteria in their digestive systems break down the food and produces gas as a result. That gas needs to be released because it produces a lot of pressure inside the animal. Bloat occurs when, for various reasons not always understood, the animal cannot release the gas and it remains trapped somewhere in the digestive system. This is very uncomfortable and, depending upon the severity, can also be life threatening.

A sign of bloat is, easily enough, when the animal looks bloated. However, an animal can appear bloated after feeding. If its abdomen looks large and bloated on both sides evenly, it probably does not have bloat. If the animal looks uneven, distended more on one side than the other, it likely has bloat. Other signs include generally showing discomfort or difficulty breathing.

Bloat can be caused by many things:

  • Overeating
  • Eating certain foods that produce excess gas
  • A sudden diet change
  • Eating uncured, green hay
  • Esophagus obstruction
  • Eating certain weeds, like milkweed

If you have an animal with moderate bloat, you can try an anti-bloat solution. You can purchase this from farm supply company. If the bloat is severe, you need to contact a veterinarian immediately to save the animal’s life. Animals with bloat can be treated, but prevention is better. To prevent bloat, keep your animals’ diet consistent. If you have to make changes, do so gradually. Restrict grazing time to prevent overeating. Do not feed your animals very much green or uncured hay.
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Hoof Problems

Footrot is a bacterial infection that occurs in the feet of your livestock. The bacteria are typically introduced when an animal that is already infected is brought into a healthy herd. If you are buying new animals, be sure that they are healthy and vaccinated. It is a good idea to have new animals checked over by a vet before introducing them to your farm. Another option is to quarantine a new animal to be sure it is healthy.

Hoof injuries are also fairly common. If any of your animals are favoring a leg, check the hoof for injury. The animal could have a stone or stick wedged in its hoof or it could have stepped on something sharp. After removing or treating the injury, keep a close eye on it to watch out for infection.

Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland and is not uncommon in cows. If a cow’s udder feels hard or swollen or if the milk is clotted, you may have a case of mastitis. The best way to prevent mastitis is to practice good hygiene and cleanliness. Keep your equipment and barn clean. Even with cleanliness, an infection may occur. Some cows may be able to fight off the infection, but if it becomes severe, antibiotics will be needed. Consult with a veterinarian to determine the severity of the infection and the need for treatment.

Johne’s Disease

If you have an animal that is thin and has diarrhea, there could be a number of underlying problems. If you rule out everything you can think of, it could be Johne’s. Johne’s disease is an intestinal infection caused by a mycobacterium species. A cow can be exposed to the bacteria and not develop the disease for months or years. This disease can affect cows, sheep, or goats. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for this infection. The animal will have to be euthanized. Ask a veterinarian to confirm Johne’s disease before giving up on the animal, however.

Chicken-Specific Diseases

Chickens are a great type of animal to keep, and they are generally easy to care for. However, they do have a host of their own diseases.

  • Picking. Picking is when chickens peck each other. This can become very serious. They can draw blood, in which case the situation will escalate as chickens react to the color red. To avoid picking, make sure your chickens are not overcrowded or stressed in any way. Make sure they have enough food and water and remove any chicken that is injured.
  • Chicken mites. Mites are little insects that burrow into chickens’ feathers and drink their blood. They can cause illness and death. Check your chickens for mites by looking for little red spots. To prevent mites, keep the coop clean. Once you have them, you may need to use an insecticide in the coop.
  • Molting. This is not a disease, but to new owners of chickens, it may seem like one. Chickens will lose their feathers once or twice a year. It is perfectly normal and there is nothing that you need to do about it.

There are many more illnesses that are possible in your animals. To prevent them, be as educated as possible about your animals, their needs, and health problems that may occur.

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