March 26, 2012

Goat vital signs: temperature
Photo by Sue Weaver
We goats don’t take our temperature under the tongue like humans do! Hehe!

If you thought your livestock friend was sick, would you know how to assess his vital signs? It’s easy, but it varies somewhat from species to species—and you should practice before you need to know how. Besides, things like body temperature and respiration also vary slightly from one animal of a given species to others of its kind. If you know your animals’ normal values, it’s easier to know when something’s wrong. (Use this first-aid kit to keep track of your livestock’s vital signs as well as the equipment needed to keep them healthy.)

There are three important vital signs for all sorts of livestock: temperature, heart rate (or pulse), respiration (how fast we’re breathing. There’s a fourth for us ruminants, like goats, sheep and cows: rumen movements (how many times our rumens contract per minute). These are the norms for adult farm animals:

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Goats and Sheep

  • Temperature: 100.9 to 103.8 degrees F
  • Heart rate: 60 to 90 beats per minute
  • Respiration rate: 12 to 20 breaths per minute
  • Rumen movements: 1 to 2 per minute


  • Temperature: 101.5 to 102.8 degrees F
  • Heart rate: 40 to 70 beats per minute
  • Beef cow respiration: 10 to 30 breaths per minute
  • Dairy cow respiration: 18 to 28 beats per minute
  • Rumen movements: 1 to 2½ per minute


  • Temperature: 99.1 to 100.8 degrees F
  • Heart rate: 25 to 70 beats per minute
  • Respiration rate: 8 to 16 breaths per minute


  • Temperature: 101.6 to 103.6 degrees F
  • Heart rate: 60 to 100 beats per minute
  • Respiration rate: 8 to 18 breaths per minute

Keep in mind that values for baby animals, especially newborns, are normally higher than those of adults. For instance, a newborn foal’s normal temperature can be 99.5 to 102.2 degrees F and its heart can beat at least 60 times per minute!

Other factors affect vital signs, too, such as physical activity (the heart rate of a sheep that’s been racing around like a banshee will be much higher than that of one snoozing under a tree), stage of pregnancy (our ewes puff like freight trains the last week or so before they lamb), the animal’s surroundings (temperatures taken on really hot days can be a bit higher than the norm) and even the time of day.

To take an animal’s vital signs requires a few tools:

  • a reliable rectal thermometer
    Old-fashioned, shake-down, mercury thermometers designed especially for veterinary use have a ring on one end. This is so you can tie a cord to the thermometer and it won’t get sucked into the animal; then you have to dig in and retrieve it with your fingers and that’s no fun for us or you. Sometimes horse owners attach an alligator clip to the end of the cord so that it can be clipped to a horse’s tail; however, nowadays most people, my mom and dad included, use digital thermometers. These are easy to use because it takes less time to get an accurate reading and the thermometer beeps when it’s done.
  • some type of lubricant, like petroleum jelly or spit
  • a stethoscope
    These are handy for checking heart rate but you can learn to do it without one. You do need a stop watch or a regular watch with a second hand for checking heart rate, respiration and rumen movements.

That’s all! Next week, I’ll show you how to use them.

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