Hobby Farms Editors
February 18, 2015

5 Herd-Health Tips To Prevent Disease - Photo by Magnus Akselvolt (HobbyFarms.com)

For a healthy, thriving farm, it’s important that you meet the physical needs of your animals to ensure they’re putting all their energy into their production instead of recovering from illness. One of the best measurements of a herd’s health and welfare is a farm’s production numbers—not incidence of diseases and death like most farmers think. Many farmers don’t even realize they’re on the verge of a disease outbreak because they only look at the sick animals as a benchmark of health. As a veterinarian, I’ve found that basic management practices are often overlooked, but you can avoid visits from me and my colleagues by putting these five practices into place immediately.

1. Provide Good Nutrition

Not only do your animals need proper nutrition to grow, produce milk or lay eggs, but they also need it to build their immune systems. When an animal is sick, it requires even higher nutrient levels, so if it’s not receiving proper nutrition, it’ll likely suffer.

Feed testing is a good way to ensure your animals receive enough carbohydrates, protein, and most importantly, minerals and vitamins. A lack of appropriate vitamins and minerals is most often the issue when a nutrition-related disease outbreak occurs, but it can also be a lack of energy or water. However, keep in mind that excess nutrients can be as dangerous as deficiencies, so consult your veterinarian about what’s appropriate for your animals: They’ll be familiar with the soil nutrient deficiencies and diseases common in your area, which will determine what supplements you provide.

2. Vaccinate Properly

Many farmers try to avoid the cost of vaccines, especially when money is tight, but this is a huge risk. Boosting your animal’s immunity through vaccination not only helps prevent disease outbreaks, it also reduces the severity of an outbreak, should one occur, thus limiting the impact on the herd or flock. During an outbreak, most of your production losses are actually from seemingly healthy animals fighting off the disease. Every species and herd has a different list of vaccine-preventable diseases and various levels of risk, requiring different vaccine protocols. Discuss vaccine management with your veterinarian to customize protocol that will protect your herd the best.

Vaccines, especially modified live vaccines, need to be properly handled to ensure they work. Vaccines are temperature-sensitive and won’t work if they become too hot or cold. You also need to follow the expiration date: Modified live vaccines are only good for a few hours after mixing, so always check the packaging for time requirements.

Vaccines can also fail if they’re improperly injected. I’ve been at farms where the person vaccinating the calves releases the handle on the self-filling syringe before removing it from the skin. Because the needle was still in the pool of vaccine in the calf, it sucked that up rather than refilling from the bottle, meaning none of the calves got a proper dose of vaccine while the bottle stayed full and became red with blood. I also commonly see the needle going through the other side of the skin instead of into the animal, which can waste the entire syringe. Every animal needs to receive a proper dose of vaccine to be best protected.

3. Purchase Animals from Healthy Herds

This seems like an obvious tip, but it’s not always followed. Many disease outbreaks occur right after the farm brings in new animals, often from an auction house. By purchasing animals directly from a farm so that they don’t undergo the stresses of mixing with other animals and spending time in unfamiliar surroundings, you reduce the risk of disease immensely.

4. Quarantine Sick Animals and New Arrivals

If you purchase animals, always quarantine them from your herd for at least 2 weeks, and preferably for a month. That way, if the stress of moving to your farm makes them sick, they won’t spread the illness to your current herd. Even if animals don’t look sick, they may be shedding a pathogen or parasite from their previous home that could cause an outbreak among your animals. Quarantining any sick animals from your herd helps to reduce the spread of disease, as well.

5. Keep Records

As tedious as bookkeeping can be, keeping proper records helps track disease prevention and management. For example, if you keep good records on production, treatments and replacement animal purchases, you can determine whether you have an underlying illness or welfare concern. If you have a drop in production, you can guarantee that you have a welfare issue that needs to be treated.

For more help implementing a management system suited to your farm, have your veterinarian perform a herd-health audit to customize a plan.

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