Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding uk
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding uk
Keeping Livestock: Health Checking your Stock
Jack Smellie
Celebrating Smallholding
Duty of care
If you own any livestock, welfare guidelines suggest that you check your animals at least once a day. There will be times/situations when checking is more frequent, e.g. lambing or when you have stock inside for whatever reason but essentially, we all need to practice high animal welfare by ensuring our animals have the best possible care 24/7 (see the links) and we are breaking the law if we don’t.
If you notice signs of ill health in any animal, you have a duty of care to respond appropriately.
'Normal' behaviour
First and foremost it is important to understand ‘normal’ behaviour in your animals in order to then spot signs of abnormal behaviour that may indicate illness or injury. These are some of the most obvious behaviours to be aware of.
  • Ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, alpacas)
    Ruminants spend a fair proportion of their day chewing the cud. This is an essential part of the digestive process. Usually it is done lying down, but not always. It is quite a sociable activity with a fair proportion of the flock/herd doing it at once.
    When not chewing the cud, they are eating or sleeping.
    Rumens don’t develop until the animals are a few weeks old, therefore very young animals don’t chew the cud.
  • Poultry spend a lot of their day scratching, dabbling, pecking, preening, dust bathing etc. When they aren’t doing these ‘busy’ activities they may be sunbathing or simply perching and looking at the world around them. Most birds are fairly sociable and usually ‘hang around’ in groups of two or more.
  • Pigs tend to either be asleep or enjoying a good wallow; or actively eating by digging, and generally exploring the ground they are living on (if free range). Indoor pigs will enjoy a good snuffle in their straw. They are also very clean animals in terms of their toileting habits.
  • Routines - most animals learn routines and behave accordingly, e.g. waiting at gates for feed or to be let in to be milked etc.
  • Showing an interest - by the very nature of being domesticated, most animals you have on your smallholding will show some level of interest in you and what you are doing. Some species are especially inquisitive, e.g. turkeys, alpacas. Others are more reactive if they are worried about something e.g. goats; some are more fearful. e.g. sheep
  • Play - most young animals ‘play’ and explore and so you should see your young stock running, chasing, head butting, squaring up to each other, biting, nibbling etc.
  • Pecking orders can be found amongst most of the livestock you keep. In some species it is very defined and can be brutal, e.g. goats and poultry. In others it is more subtle and less confrontational, e.g. sheep and alpacas.
  • Food - There aren’t many animals who aren’t led by their stomachs and so the sight of the feed bucket, corn jug, the opening of the gate into a new field of grass etc should result in eager, animated and even quite pushy behaviour, followed by appropriate eating!!!
  • Noise - types, level and frequency of noises will vary hugely amongst your stock, loud crowing by cockerels, bleating goats at feed time, baa-ing by ewes calling for their lambs, are all normal behaviours. Animals who are usually quiet usually have good reasons for suddenly making a lot of noise and vice-versa.
Signs that an animal is unwell
  • Is apart from the rest of the herd/flock
  • Hides away – poorly poultry often head for the seclusion of a nest box
  • Is being bullied – the instinct for survival is such that ‘weaker’ members of the flock/herd will be pushed out - a behaviour that can still be found in domesticated animals
  • Is NOT exhibiting normal flock/herd behaviours when all the others are, e.g. not chewing the cud, joining in the ‘racing’ games etc
  • Does not come over for feed with the rest of the stock
  • Is drinking more or less than normal
  • Spends more time than normal standing up or lying down
  • Is noisier or quieter than normal
  • Is grinding its teeth (ruminants) which can be a sign of pain
  • Is breathing noisily and/or has a runny nose or eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Is restless or twitchy
  • For poultry, no longer perching at night


Whole herd/flock health checks
Tips for your daily health checks
  • Make them stand up - an excellent way of quickly assessing your flock or herd of grazing animals is to walk amongst them when they are all lying down and so make them get up. That way you can check for limps, mucky bums, animals who won’t get up, any twitchiness etc. Most ruminants will often poo when made to get up like this, so it is also a great opportunity to check poo consistencies (and to collect some if you need to run any fecal egg counts).
  • Feed times - watch your stock feeding, looking out for any animal who is slower than usual, being bullied more than usual, not showing as much interest in the food etc.
  • Relationships - most animals form 'groups' whether it is mum and offspring, siblings, same species or totally ad-hoc. Look out for any changes in these relationships (one being pushed out or being a bully etc) as this can also be a sign all is not well
  • Body assessment - running your hands along/over the body/backs/chests of your animals will alert you to any lumps, bumps, injuries or body issues (overweight, underweight etc). Check coats (fur, wool, fibre and feathers) for dryness, loss etc. Learn how to body condition score your ruminants (see links below) to assess their overall condition.

Body Conditioning:
Cows: beef     Cows: dairy     Goats     Sheep    
What to check if you suspect one of your animals is unwell/off-colour (and there is no obvious cause/injury)
As smallholders, we get very good at being able to spot if one of our animals is unwell – what won’t be apparent to someone else, will be blindingly obvious to us because we ‘know’ the animal concerned. They may be the last to come to the bucket instead of being first as usual, they may be lying down more frequently or being noisier or quieter!
The following is a list of instant checks you can do in order to try to work out if there really is something wrong and help you decide whether you need to call out the vet.
  • Temperature – usually taken anally, make sure you have at least one animal thermometer in your medical kit and some lube, learn what the ‘normal’ temperatures are for all the stock you keep
  • Dehydration – do the skin test by pinching the skin away from the body and then releasing – a hydrated animal’s skin will return to normal within a second, a dehydrated one will take longer. Also check the gums, if they are dry and lacking in mucous, that can also be a sign of dehydration. A dehydrated animal will also produce darker, stronger smelling urine
  • Anaemia – pale lips and gums can be a sign of anaemia (deficiency of red cells in the blood)
  • Swelling/Heat – run your hands over the whole body to check for any swelling or heat, check joints, udders, noses, feet (including the sole)
  • Poo - check poo samples if possible for any signs of blood or poor consistency
  • Face – check eyes and nose for any mucous/liquid or redness, check teeth for any cracks or breaks, check the throat for anything stuck or any swelling/redness
  • Breathing – listen for signs of any breathing difficulties
  • Ruminants – put your hand or ear on the left hand side and feel/listen for rumen activity – you should feel/hear something within a minute
  • Food – tempt the animal with its favourite food, a refusal to eat can suggest some kind of ill-health or injury

Tel: 01769 581175  07929 204386/204521    jack@celebratingsmallholdinguk.org.uk    Relaxed Ltd    Celebrating Smallholding Uk

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