One of the keys to managing any livestock operation is the ability to identify sick animals very early. However, in order to find illnesses, you should first understand what is a normal animal. Many livestock producers spend much of their time observing their animals during feeding time. This is a great time to take at least 10 minutes to do nothing more than observe the animals.
Watch for any changes in behavior. Are any animals standing off by themselves? Are any animals less aggressive than normal? Do any animals have lower hanging ears than normal? On closer inspection, watch the animal's breathing for any puffing or respiratory distress. Rapid and difficult breathing may indicate pneumonia. Check the eyes and gums for color. A light or gray color may indicate anemia, often caused by internal parasites.
A normal goat should appear bright eyed with the head in a normal position. Most goats will also be rather nosy.
Another consideration is to evaluate the hair or wool coat on the animals. The hair should lay smoothly on the animal and should be glossy and shiny. Animals with dull and shaggy hair coats may need their rations adjusted or they may need dewormed. For sheep with broken wool fibers, you may need to look at their nutrition and deworming program also. Keep in mind that stress will also affect the strength of wool fibers. Lambing will often cause ewes to loose their wool if they were stressed during labor.
The table below lists some basic health information for a normal animal.
Goat Sheep Beef Cattle
Rectal Temperature (F) 102.3 102.3 101
Respiration (breaths/minute) - 16-34 26-50
Heart Rate (beats/minute) 70-80 70-80 48-84
Estrus Cycle (days) 21 17 21
Gestation 145-155 144-147 281-289
When in doubt, you can always take a rectal temperature to support your first determination. Your veterinarian will often ask for a temperature when you first contact them about a sick animal.
Before inserting a thermometer, it is a good practice to tie a string through the loop at the end of the thermometer and attach a clip. You can use the clip to attach the thermometer to the hair or wool on the animal. This will prevent you from loosing the thermometer in the pen.
When taking a rectal temperature, be sure to lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly or even saliva before inserting in the anus.
Always take time to observe your animals every day. You can become familiar with their normal behavior and will easily spot an animal who isn't feeling well. Treatment can then begin early on, before the animal becomes too sick to respond to any medication.