Animal health monitoring on organic and alternative farms

Practicing good animal husbandry helps your herd or flock stay healthy and happy. To do this, we need to train ourselves to monitor the health of our animals. Animal health monitoring involves keeping a close eye on your livestock for signs of illness to catch problems early and prevent minor dilemmas from becoming significant issues. Daily observation is recommended in most cases.

Some things to look out for:

  • Feed bunks still full hours after feeding
  • Animals less active than usual
  • Prominent ribs or backbones
  • Changes in gait, favoring one leg, or completely lame
  • Difficulty breathing or a frequent cough
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Diarrhea that contains mucous or blood

If you see any of these signs, separate affected animals from the rest of the herd. This practice is known as isolation and can help reduce the number of animals affected by a disease or outbreak on your farm. The area you move these animals to should be a separate location, away from the rest of the herd/flock, with its own set of cleaning and feeding supplies. More information about setting up a functional isolation area can be found here.

Keep parasites away

Parasites, both internal and those found on skin or hair, can be a burden on your herd or flock. They can affect your animal’s growth and reduce its ability to fight off other diseases. The types of parasites you have depends on what kinds of animals you raise. Knowing which parasite you are dealing with will help you pick out the right treatment. Working with your local veterinarian, extension agent, or organic certifier is a great place to start if you are unfamiliar with the best way to manage your herd’s parasite load.  

Many parasites are shed in feces, contaminating other animals by oral routes. So, the best way to prevent infestation is to keep your animals from ingesting or coming into close contact with their feces. Keeping feed off the ground by using a feed trough or pail is an excellent start if you are currently ground feeding. Cleaning your stalls or buildings frequently to prevent manure build-up can help reduce the number of parasite eggs in bedding.

Most of the animals we raise as organic and alternative producers have access to the outdoors. Practicing rotational grazing can decrease your animals’ exposure to parasites. Creating smaller paddocks in a more extensive field and rotating animals every 3-4 days or before there is less than 4 inches of growth will break the intestinal parasites’ normal life cycle and keep the pastures cleaner and growing better. A good rule of thumb to remember is “the higher the head, the lower the load.”  

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