Farmers must observe their animals closely to make sure they are healthy. A sound management program to keep animals healthy is essential to the farming of all livestock. If the health of the herd is compromised, the operation will drop in efficiency. To recognize clinical signs of diseases that are common to livestock, it is important to be familiar with what is normal or healthy. Farmers should assess the herd or flock’s general health on a regular basis, including its vital signs, body condition and coat.
As a farmer, you should be able to notice signs of ill health in your animal. You should be able to tell whether the animal is being fed well, and is being kept in an adequately clean and comfortable environment. You should also be able to identify when the animal is not getting enough nutrition from its diet, or when it has fallen prey to an illness or parasitic infection.
Appearance and behavior
A healthy animal is alert and aware of its surroundings. It is active and holds its head up, watching what happens around it. It should stand on all of its feet. If an animal stands separate from the herd, it is often due to ill health. An animal which is not interested in its surroundings and does not want to move has health problems.Healthy animals exhibit normal posture. They are alert, have clear eyes and respond to touch. A running nose or dull eyes may indicate ill health.
Movement or Gait
A healthy animal will walk easily and steadily, balancing its weight on all of its feet.Steps should be regular. Irregular movements result from pain in the feet or limbs.If you go near an animal that is lying down, it should stand up quickly—if it doesn’t, it may have health problems. Any animal that cannot walk or stand properly must be closely watched, since it may be suffering from ill health. When you notice that the animal is favouring one leg when it walks, it is important that you restrain it until you find out the cause, and treat it effectively.
The eyes should be bright and alert with no discharge at the corners.
Most animals have erect ears which move in the direction of sound.Ear movements are also meant to swat away flies.The body temperature of a pig can be checked by touching its ear.
Nose and muzzle
The nose should be clean with no discharge.In cattle and buffalo the muzzle should be moist not dry. Healthy animals frequently lick their noses with their tongues.
There should be no saliva dripping from the mouth. If chewing is slow or incomplete, there could be a problem with the teeth.
Appetite and feeding
Healthy animals have a good appetite for food and generally like to feed to their satisfaction. Sick animals have no appetite for food. If you notice that your animal has suddenly lost its appetite for food, it could be because it has fallen ill.
The coat of healthy animals should be clean, smooth and shiny and show complete cover. Signs of ill health are: the coat looks dull and hairs fall out. Cold, dry and scarred skin signifies diseases. When you see your animal suddenly show symptoms of a skin disorder, you must pay immediate attention. In short-haired animals, e.g. cattle, the hair or coat of the healthy animal will be smooth and shiny.Healthy cattle and their calves lick their coat and the lick marks will show.
If a cow or buffalo keeps looking at its flanks or kicks at its belly it has a pain in the stomach.
Temperature, Pulse and Respiratory Rate
Every breed of farm animal has a specific range of body temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate that is considered normal. Radical deviation from these values signifies ill health. You will have to check the vitals of your farm animal to ensure that it is physically, mentally and psychologically fit.
Breathing should be smooth and regular when the animal is at rest. Remember that movement and hot weather will increase the rate of breathing. If the animal is resting in the shade, it should be difficult to notice the chest moving as it breathes.
Taking the pulse is important when examining an animal. The pulse of cattle is taken at a point on the underside of the base of the tail. The normal rate is 40–80 beats per minute in an adult. In buffalo the pulse rate is 40-60 beats per minute. Remember that the pulse rate will be higher in young animals. To take the pulse you should feel for it with the first two fingers of your hand. In llamas, alpacas and pigs there is no point at which the pulse can be taken; the beat of the heart itself must be felt for.
Droppings or Dung
Any deviation of the faeces i.e. too hard, too watery, contaminated with worm segments or stained with blood, indicates ill health. If your animal begins to defecate on its own body, it is an indication that it has a problem in its alimentary canal and needs immediate attention. The droppings of a healthy animal will be firm. Very soft droppings (diarrhea) is a sign of ill health.If the animal has difficulty in defecating (constipation) this is also a sign of poor health.
The normal colour of urine is pale yellow. Deep yellow, blood stained, or cloudy urine shows ill health. When your animal shows pain while urinating, there may be something wrong with its urinal system. The urine should be clear, and the animal should show no signs of pain or difficulty in urinating.
Appetite and Rumination
If feed is available, a healthy animal will have a full belly. Cattle chew the cud (ruminate) for 6 to 8 hours each day. It is a sign of ill health when these animals stop ruminating.
In the milking animal, a sudden change in the amount of milk produced could indicate a health problem. Any sign of blood or other matter in the milk indicates an infection in the udder. There should be no swelling of the udder and no sign of pain when it is touched. There should be no injury to the teat.
When an animal coughs continuously, it means that something is irritating its throat. Coughing is not necessarily a sign of ill health, as long as it isn’t a persistent or chronic cough.
Healthy animals do not show any sign of pain. When animals begin to show signs of pain by grinding their teeth or groaning, it is an indication that something is wrong.
This is the lining of various systems and organs of the body, e.g. eyes, nose or anus. The mucous lining of healthy animals is moist. When these become dry, the animal experiences discomfort and requires immediate attention.