Monday, February 11, 2008

Livestock Dial-A-Nurse (Unlicensed)

Unless there is severe bleeding, take a deep breath and calm yourself...a few seconds probably won't make a huge difference.

I'm writing tonight in response to two situations that came to my e-mail in-box within the last 24 hours. One: someone who bought a couple laying hens from me for her back yard last summer--one hen has become lethargic and very thin. The other: a friend is upset that one of her newly purchased "baby milk goats" escaped its pen and ate a toxic plant. I've e-mailed my commonsense experience, strength and hope--and assurances of prayers--to both people.

Now I'll take the time to "archive" that information here for future reference by other friends, as well as for the folks who will be helping me on the farm, esp. at lambing time.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a veterinarian or anything close...and I'm not an "expert"... and I'm not giving "advice." I'm a lay person who has done a lot of muddling through weird livestock stuff, and I'm sharing my experience, strength and hope for what it's worth. NOTHING substitutes for a good, on-going relationship with a local veterinarian who specializes in your species and is familiar with your farm, facilities, animals, priorities and management style. Also, get some good, detailed health care books for your species and memorize them. Then realize that MOST of this stuff NEVER happens, and the rest only happens rarely.

VETS TO AVOID: Those who give advice on the phone without ever seeing your place or animals, or running appropriate diagnostics (the vet should insist on a farm visit and stool samples before recommending a parasite management plan). Those who think they know everything & won't listen to you or do research (you have a lot of information they need about your animals--they should respect you as part of the health care team...and no one knows everything). Those who treat all sheep as if they are registered meat breed show stock (wool or dairy sheep may have entirely different considerations). Those whose practice is focused on pets (may be expensive and tend to over-treat).

Even with the best vet, read labels yourself and watch for anything that contradicts your planned use of animal (i.e. "not for food animal use" if you are planning on slaughtering, or "not for dairy use" in another species on off-label drugs if you are planning to milk the animal eventually). Vets may also forget that sheep cannot excrete copper...NEVER give any feed or supplement to sheep that lists any added copper or it can build up and kill them eventually.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENTS: I deal with vets/vet bills by thinking of each farm or office visit as an intensive workshop with steep tuition (the bill). Ask as many questions as you possibly can, expect answers, call back if you have more questions, and watch everything.

How I deal with the critters who don't recover: Think of it as an intensive workshop with steep tuition (the value of the animal). Do a necropsy if possible...i.e., cut it open and see what's inside, just in case it might help you understand what happened and prevent it happening again...or inform your approach to the next different crisis. One ewe apparently dropped dead in her tracks just a week short of lambing. It was obvious when I cut her open (initially because I was curious how many lambs she was carrying) that she had ruptured her spleen and bled to death internally in a matter of minutes...all her blood clotted in abdomen. I became more careful about crowding them through small doors in late pregnancy...and keep in mind that, sheep being sheep, they'll do it anyway.) Know that this one gave its life to help save the next one...just like the one the coyote catches will stop fighting so that the rest of the herd can escape. See (i) below.

NO BLAME! It's very common to feel you (or someone else) caused the problem through some error or omission. Blame will not heal the critter. Stay in the present, take care of the critter, and you can analyze things to do differently next time after things have settled down. We all make mistakes, that's how we learn. And a lot of livestock stuff is out of our control....what WILL they think of next? Sometimes I think they lie awake at night plotting it....

After ???? years I STILL leave gates unlatched/ajar at the wrong slant...thus Freckleface the llama and I had a romp through the frozen garden just this morning. The main farm gate was open (we'd just brought in a couple loads of hay) so IF he had zigged instead of zagged and darted instead of dodged, he COULD have ended up on North Street causing some traffic fatality whose relatives would now own the farm....

After nearly 15 years of working with sheep and poultry, and much "tuition", it seems like most stuff begins and ends with SUPPORTIVE CARE. Keep the necessary tools and materials on hand, and you will feel much better about yourself when something comes up suddenly (as most crises do). These include various tubing/bottling/feeding equipment; syringes/needles; thermometer; electrolyte; nutridrench; scissors; wound treatment stuff; cages/pens; heat lamps; hair dryers; rags/old towels; individual feed pans...your collection will grow with each "workshop", and so will your confidence.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS for initial assessment: Do you know what happened? If disease, what are symptoms? If suspected poisoning, what plant or other material? What organs/systems are/will be affected? This really affects how Supportive Care might apply. Body temperature high/low/normal? How old is critter? Is it nursing? Eating solids? Observe pooping/peeing patterns...these tell you a lot. If you've talked to a vet, are they experienced with small ruminants? Large ruminants? Horses? Mainly pets? This can make a huge difference in their approach to care (and cost!), and determine how much you follow your intution vs. their instructions.

SUPPORTIVE CARE mainly encompasses three things in this order: (a) achieve/maintain proper body temperature (b) achieve/maintain proper hydration (c) maintain blood sugar/nutrients. After that comes treating any other symptoms of the problem. Preventing secondary infection is part of that, i.e. antibiotics.

Actually, before (a) comes TAKE CARE OF THE CAREGIVER. Give yourself a hug, say a prayer, and know you are doing your best. (a) - (c) apply to caregiver as well as patient! Always remember, prayer is more effective than worry!

(a) Don't do anything about (b) or (c) until you have dealt with any hypothermia, or the energy demand for digestion may push the critter "over the edge". Rectal temp with regular thermometer should be about 102 for sheep/goats; 106 for chickens. Inside lamb/kid's mouth should feel warm to your finger. Heat lamp, hot water bottle, put critter in plastic bag (except head!) and give a very warm bath in sink; hair dryer; blankets. Be careful not to burn critter or yourself or set anything on fire. If critter is too lively to put up with any of this, hypothermia is likely not a concern! You can easily cut a "coat" from an old felted sweater, sweat shirt, etc.

(b) Check for dehydration by pinching a fold of bare skin (groin or armpit) and see if it springs back smoothly or leaves a ridge. If there's a ridge, focus on fluids. Water, Pedialyte or veterinary electrolyte mix (2-part Entrolyte H.E. is good), or make your own electrolyte mix w/ salt and sugar/molasses. If animal will drink, encourage it to drink lots by adding molasses to warm water. Bottle if it likes that. If reluctant to drink, but alert, "tube" it with body-temp. electrolytes. Don't tube an animal that is so weak it can't that with vet.

(c) "Nutridrench" (specific formulas for sheep and for goats) (aka "Go Juice" on a friend's farm) is propylene glycol (quick energy) with a proper balance of vitamins & minerals. It can be work wonders. Follow directions...administer with a syringewith no needle. Then, use a quality milk replacer for critters still nursing/taking a bottle. You can tube feed this if the sucking instinct is weak, or you want them to go back to sucking Mom. For ruminating animals, alfalfa pellets, "sweet feed", commercial sheep/goat "chow", or your usual grain mix can be fed depending on situation. Go as slowly as seems prudent with any sudden feeding changes (except Nutridrench) to prevent (e)...if critter was initially healthy, it likely has enough body fat to "coast" a bit calorie-wise. Ask your vet about injectibles like B-vitamins to stimulate appetite and iron ("pig iron") for anemic animals (common due to internal parasites)...most of these are "off-label" for sheep/goats so MUST have case-specific vet approval for legal use.

(d) Pepto bismol (generic) can be used to control diarrhea. If diarrhea, go real easy on food until controlled...just nutridrench and fluids at first. Though in case of poison you may want to allow some diarhhea initially to purge, just keep up with fluids to flush toxins.

(e) Acidosis/bloating/foundering may result in any ruminant from any digestive upset, even just interrupted or changed feeding regimens. This may result directly from poison, or be a side effect of stress, changed feed/off feed, etc. Thankfully I haven't taken that workshop yet....

(f) Any situation-specific needs-- darkness if light-sensitivity is a factor; quiet if excitability is a factor; etc.

(g) Remember these are herd/flock animals. Being away from their friends is VERY stressful and can cause depression/off feed--leading to (e)--all by itself. Keep separate if needed for treatment but within earshot/smell/sight of friend can be helpful for both patient and friends. Don't neglect friends too much! Friends are worried, too...and will give you hope!

(h) A lot of common-sense home remedies work for animals, too...yoghurt to help balance rumen bacteria, etc. You can get probiotics specially formulated for various ruminant species, too. Keep body size in mind. There are some good books out there on herbal animal care...probably stuff on internet...I just haven't had time to study.

(i) Carcasses can be composted very successfully w/no odor if ground is too frozen to dig...Use a minimum 8" of heavy compacted cover (slightly composted if possible...old barn waste hay is best, manure, etc.) on all sides; wire to keep varmints out; don't turn; let age a long time. Puncture rumen/intestines before covering to prevent heaving of pile with post-mortem bloating. I do the necropsy right in the compost pile, then cover.... Soak pile well. Add more cover if it starts to smell, and keep well dampened (not soggy).

Last but not least, it really helps to have friends and mentors with livestock to call for advise and sympathy.

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