Basic Livestock Care Skills

Caring for livestock is among the basics for those practicing good animal husbandry.

  • A cow cleaning up its young calf.
    Photo by Klaus
  • A vet on location gets an annual spring vaccination ready for a horse's injection.
    Photo by Herriman
  • The most basic of livestock skills on the farm are taking an animal’s temperature, determining pulse and respiration rates, and knowing how to test for dehydration, among other indicators.
    Photo by Mann
  • Routinely dressing and wrapping cuts, scrapes, and other minor wounds is part of trying to give your animals the best quality of life possible.
    Photo by Morgan Winkler
  • Learning to make a horse lift his hoof for inspection is another basic livestock skill.
    Photo by Remsberg Inc./AgStockUSA
  • Intravenous injections are best left to the professionals. At left, a veterinarian prepares an injection at a Minnesota dairy.
    Photo by Steve Wolt/AgStockUSA

Without a doubt, livestock bring their owners great joy and happiness. There’s nothing like the peaceful feeling of watching your animals graze at sunrise, laughing at a new lamb frolicking, or the satisfaction of putting good, wholesome food on the table. But, along with owning livestock comes a great responsibility to do all we can to practice good animal husbandry and ensure their health and welfare.

A good relationship with a large-animal vet can go a long way toward achieving that health and welfare. A vet cannot only provide care in times of crisis, but can help make sure routine and preventative health care is up to date. To enhance that relationship, there are several basic skills every livestock owner can master that will make their vet’s job easier and help ensure a happy and productive herd. These skills will allow you to assess an animal’s health, administer basic medications, and make sure your animals are in tip-top condition for breeding and giving birth.

Assessing an animal’s condition

Take a temperature. If you notice something is just “not quite right” with your animal, one of the first things you can look at objectively is the body temperature of the animal.

One of the quickest and most valuable assessment tools is a simple thermometer. An animal with an elevated temperature on a cool, cloudy day might be in the early stages of an infectious disease. Animals with a high temperature on a hot, sunny day may be experiencing heat distress. And an animal with too low a body temperature for the current weather conditions might be in shock or experiencing some other systemic problem.

Traditional veterinary thermometers are glass with mercury inside. They will come with a loop on the end for tying a string through so the thermometer can be inserted as far as possible without losing it. Don’t skip this step. Losing a thermometer where you don’t want to lose one can add insult to injury at a time when you don’t need the headache.

If using a glass thermometer, shake it down to get the mercury to the bottom of the bulb. Use plenty of OB lube, as tearing sensitive rectal tissues can create additional problems. (In a pinch, dish soap can be used.) You can also use a digital thermometer, but be sure, as with the glass one, to also tie a string around it for easy retrieval. These aren’t quite as easy to become lost as the slender glass ones, but better safe than sorry.

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