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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:


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:

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 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.

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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