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There is more to raising animals in the farm and it calls for more than just putting them out in a field to eat grass and fend for themselves. It exceeds putting animals in a barn with an automatic waterer and throwing in a bale of hay every so often. In addition to routine care and management such as docking the tails, hoof trimming and clipping, you aught to be ready for any health problems that might crop up.

Long before any animal owner or farmer have to think about looking for a veterinarian, they do so not until they are prompted by a need. The animal has to have shown some signs of illness, which is why I am going to mention by passing some of the signs that might tell you, “listen! it’s time you called a vet!”

Recognizing Signs of illness

All farm animals are creatures of habit. One is able to learn these habits and which you can use to perceive illness simply by observing your farm animals several times each day. Besides, it’s a good excuse to spend time with your animals.

Many animals depending with the species prefer staying together with the herd. Some others tend to go it alone or hang out with just one ‘friend’ (this is dependent on the herd size). When you observe a completely social animal isolate itself or a loner all of a sudden get into the herd and start fighting a lot, you get a clue that something might be wrong.

On the other hand, a change in feeding behavior gives a clear sign that the animal may not be feeling well. Some animals exhibit only minor variations in feeding – some are always ‘pigs’ while others eat more slowly or have to fight or be sneaky to get their share. When an animal stops eating and drinking, you definitely know that it is not feeling well. On the contrary, when an animal starts feeding a lot, it is pretty obvious that the animal is feeling great!

Below are some other signs that an animal might be ill:

  • Not ruminating: Cud-chewing (called rumination) is a part of how ruminants (cattle,sheep and goats) digest their food. Healthy ruminants ruminate after they eat. When these animals stop ruminating, it is an indication that the digestive system is upset.
  • Walking difficulty (lameness): A limp indicates a possible injury of the limbs or a hoof or joint problem. When the animal staggers, this is indicative of possible nerve problem.
  • Teeth-grinding or head-pressing: Both of these are signs that the animal is in pain and you need to investigate further.
  • Changes in breathing: Some health problems can increase the rate of or cause shallow or even labored breathing, while others cause the animal to breath at decreased rate. Note that extreme heat can also cause labored breathing, while exercise can cause fast breathing in a healthy animals.
  • Cough, runny nose, or runny eyes: Healthy animals usually have no coughs, moist noses, and dry eyes.
  • Abnormal feces: Changes in consistency or color of the feces may signal a health problem. Very hard droppings are indicative of possible constipation or intestinal blockage while very loose (diarrhea)indicate an active infection /inflammation of the bowels.

Finding a veterinarian

Unless you are a veterinarian yourself, you need to plan on working with a veterinarian to handle farm animal health care issues that come up. Even if you’re competent in some areas because of experience with livestock, a time will come when you really need to call a veterinarian for assistance.

In Kenya, veterinary practices are regulated by the Kenya Veterinary Board. The treatment of animal is therefore by law mandated to licensed veterinary surgeons and some parts of the animal health to veterinary paraprofessional (or Animal health officers: AHOs). It is therefore important that you are able to identify the correct professional to deal with the issues at hand accordingly. This will also shield you from exploitation by quacks who parade themselves as qualified veterinarians.

Finding a vet who has expertise in specific farm animal health may be difficult, but you need to find one long before you have a problem. Always ensure you approach qualified veterinarians when you have identified a health problem among your animals. Do not opt for cheap for it comes with great costs and losses afterwards when you really must work with a veterinarian. It is always safe to ask veterinarians to identify themselves as it is provided in the veterinary code of ethics. When you really need a veterinary specialist, a good place to start is with veterinarians who work locally with livestock.

PS: Don’t wait until your animals are sick before you try to find a veterinarian for them. You may not be able to find a veterinarian at that time who will take care of them in an emergency situation and experience a dire outcome.

Knowing when to call

A good time to make that first call to a vet and to start developing a relationship is when you want to have blood drawn for your herd testing. This first step makes your animals their patients and is likely to make them more responsive when your animals have problems. Continue to use your veterinarian for routine care that you can’t perform, or ask them to teach you to do certain procedures when they are out on a farm call.

When you see a medical problem in your animals that you can’t resolve or you believe is serious, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian. The veterinarian may be at another farm, and you may have to wait to get assistance for your animal. If the problem turns out not to be so serious, you may be able to get advice or a prescription over the phone.

Preparing for a vet visit

Before you call a vet to come to your farm or bring an animal in for a non-routine care visit – except it be a serious emergency – take a few steps to make sure that your animal gets the most appropriate tender care.

Sometimes remembering everything is hard when you’re under stress. Thus, you may need to write down what you have observed by making notes of the animal’s symptoms, how long it has been sick, and the medications or other care you’ve given so far. This information may be helpful to the veterinarian in making a diagnosis.

If you have time, do the following before your vet visit:

  • Take the animal’s temperature
  • Check its gums for color
  • Listen for heart rate and ruminations
  • Note whether the animal has: injuries, crusty eyes, breathing problems or coughing and/or diarrhea
  • Check for dehydration by pinching the skin on the neck in front of the shoulder, using your thumb and forefinger. Note whether the skin snaps back to its normal position quickly or stays in a tent before it slowly goes back to normal. A slow return to normal indicates that the animal is dehydrated.

Record all of your observations for the vet’s reference. Also be ready to share the animal’s history of prior illness, vaccinations, and other health care information.

If the vet will be making a farm call, ask whether you can do anything before he arrives. For example, they might want a urine or fecal sample. You also need to catch the animal and put it in a confined, lighted area while waiting for the vet to arrive.