Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking care of sheep and goats

By David Burton
University Extension

Where there are livestock, there will be death. However, every livestock producer wants to minimize death losses, from both a humane and economic standpoint.

An effective animal health program is an essential part of successful sheep and dairy goat management programs according to Dr. Jodie Pennington, small ruminant educator with Lincoln University Extension.

“The key to minimized death is to be observant of diseases or problems with the herd or flock and to act promptly and properly to correct any deviations from normal observations, including correcting faulty equipment and facilities,” said Pennington.

Likewise, Pennington says good feeding and breeding will not result in maximum produc­tion if sheep and goats are not kept in good health.

Pennington says spending a few minutes every day watching your animals is time well spent.

“You can learn the normal behavior and attitude of your sheep and goats and then can recognize anything that may be wrong. This knowledge is one of the most important characteristics of a good herder,” said Pennington.

If abnormal behavior is observed, use common sense, experience, knowledge and your physical senses to determine the problem. Don’t overlook the obvious; and observe the facilities and environment to see if any changes could be affecting the animals.

“I also recommend recording all observations on a permanent record,” said Pennington. “As with any other animal enterprise, it is important to keep good records and have a plan to follow when managing your goat herd.”

Using a production calendar for managing a herd not only provides a schedule to follow for production and health practices but allows for timely breeding and management for specific markets.

Since each herd is different, Pennington says it is important to work with a veterinarian to create a herd health plan. The plan will need to include information on each animal regarding medications, vaccinations, wormers, injuries, production, breeding, and culling.

“The best economic returns are realized when disease problems are at a minimum,” said Pennington. “Preventive medicine is almost always less expensive than treating disease.”

Because symptoms of some diseases in sheep and goats may be similar, Pennington recommends working closely with a veterinarian. The veterinarian has the training to provide a diagnosis or the means of obtaining a diagnosis when a disease occurs.

“The veterinarian should also be familiar with products for treating sheep and goats plus current regulations and health requirements for shipping animals,” said Pennington.

With goats and sheep, the most common nutritional problems are being either too skinny or too fat and animals that are off-feed.

Pennington says each problem can be prevented by properly balancing the ration and controlling other diseases.

“Frequent observations can allow early detection of animals that are too fat or skinny and minimize their effects,” said Pennington.

The quality and quantity of feed during the dry period affects animals throughout at least the next year.

“Emphasis should be given to the importance of nutrition in any stage of develop­ment of your sheep and goats,” said Pennington.

For more information, contact Dr. Jodie Pennington, region small ruminant educator with Lincoln University at the Newton County Extension Center in Neosho, Mo., telephone (417) 455-9500.

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