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The Master's Eye: Observing Livestock


Winter places extra stress on each of us at certain times, finding gloves and hats, lugging a heavy coat, staying indoors, and driving on winter roads all remind us of the season. For many of us it might mean more colds, flu, pneumonia and other health problems. For your livestock, winter also applies extra stress on their system. The lower temperatures and moist air combine to present livestock with additional demands and potential health problems.

As we confine animals in buildings to protect them from the winter weather, the potential for sickness and disease increases. The eye of the master can play an important role in helping to prevent or reduce health problems. Some warning signs that animals are not well include not eating as much or not consuming water, lethargy, weakness, loose stool, blood in stool, runny noses, watery eyes, slobbering, coughing, irregular breathing, swollen joints, lameness, gauntness, and staying off by themselves. Once these symptoms are seen, the animals should be observed to see if the animal’s condition is getting worse or better. In some cases you may need to remove the animal from the group and place it in a pen by itself for more intensive observation or care.

When doing chores, take a few minutes to look for potential problems. Watch how your stock reacts to your presence, how they move, how quickly they approach their food, and how heartily they eat. Do they have runny noses? Are their eyes alert and bright? Are they walking and moving okay? Are any animals off by themselves? Are their ears droopy and do they seem lethargic? During winter, be on the lookout for more foot and leg injuries because animals will be walking on rough, frozen ground.

Be prepared to call a veterinarian if the symptoms persist or worsen. Staying alert for signs of sickness and then acting quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

Observing your animals for signs of sickness or injury is a daily job. Like all chores, it’s easy to let it become automatic and we can often overlook some obvious problems.

Learn more about livestock health by surfing the web, going to 4-H meetings, visiting with veterinarians and other livestock producers, and reading books on the type of livestock you have. The more you know, the keener the master’s eye can be when observing their livestock. 

By Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Educator