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The basics

Livestock & Pets : The Basics

The articles below cover a number of topics about livestock health and farming. There are more articles in the other sections of lifestyle file for specific species. If you're looking for something in particular then use the search box above. If not, then browse the article titles and see what there is to help you.  If you can't find an answer here then why not ask in our discussion forums? One of the very friendly and helpful members is sure to be able to help you.

New articles are added all the time so don't forget to check back here regularly!


Understand how and why livestock teeth work the way they do, how to age animals by their teeth and why they have such big jaws.

If you have cattle, sheep or goats on your lifestyle block then you have some ruminant animals on your hands.

If any of your sheep or cattle seem to be unwell, it can be useful to give your vet a description of the problem by doing a basic health check before you contact them.

Ruminant animals must be able to get around comfortably on their feet so they can eat.

We all have special animals on the farm. They might be dogs or cats, ponies or horses, cattle or pigs. When we’ve shared their lives and enjoyed their company for years, we get very fond of them

Stiff joints, teeth problems, loss of strength and energy. To those of you who are getting on a bit, this may sound familiar.

If one of your horses or dogs seems to be unwell, it can be useful to examine it carefully

These are words to strike fear into the heart of many farmers. However, as lifestyle farmers there are far fewer risks for you and your cattle than there are for many commercial dairy farmers.

The way an animal is constructed is known as its conformation.

When you shear a sheep or a goat, you remove its weather-proofing. After all, a fleece is warm when it's cold, it prevents sunburn on clear sunny days and it's windproof and water-proof.

In recent years, a lot of progress has been made in understanding how to control worm burdens in livestock.

Livestock farmers should be careful when allowing their animals to graze any regrowth in pastures that are recovering from drought.

The word 'refugia' seemed to appear out of the blue a few years ago, and was used by veterinarians and parasitologists when talking to farmers about worms (internal parasites) in sheep and in cattle.

In the third article in Marjorie Orr's series on zoonoses, we look at diseases including salmonellosis, yersiniosis, ringworm, leptospirosis and scabby mouth.

  We should be aware that there are a few diseases of livestock that can spread to humans.  These are called zoonoses, and many of them are particularly common in spring.

Thirty years ago leptospirosis was one of the most common zoonoses in NZ with over 400 human cases a year.

In this article Clive Dalton looks at the pros and cons of keeping different types of livestock. If you're thinking of getting livestock for the first time, this article is a great place to start!

Acetonaemia is known as ketosis in cows and sleepy sickness (or pregnancy toxaemia or twin lamb disease) in ewes.  Acetonaemia in cows is fairly common, especially in high-producing cows in early lactation. The best cows are most at risk.

How many stock should you carry on your block? This is not an easy question to answer.

"Disbudding" of calves and kids means removing the very early developing horn base to prevent horn growth.

Let's hope you never have to deal with rhododendron poisoning.  The signs in sheep and goats include spectacular vomiting and intense pain.  A few hours after eating rhododendron, the animal is in agony, rumen heaving, and it's plastering the shed walls with green vomit.

Watch out for nitrate poisoning when the autumn rains come.

Livestock can usually cope fairly well with either rain or wind or cold temperatures.

The "long acre" often comes to the rescue of many stock during winter as bonus feed which has all been eaten out on the block. 

When pet owners are sitting by their heaters in winter, they should not forget their tethered pets outside or animals in kennels and runs.

Good quality pasture is generally the best feed for stock, and surplus autumn pasture can be rationed for feeding into winter.

When there is insufficient pasture for livestock, alternative feeds must be provided. The most common of these is hay. Other common supplements include concentrate pellets and grain.

What can you do when you're running out of pasture for sheep and cattle and there’s not a lot of supplementary feed around?

The fireworks displays around 5th November will be noisy, colourful and dramatic. Most people will love them.

You might well have heard of Johne’s disease, because it’s a common problem in ruminants.  But even if you’ve heard of it, you may not know much about it.

Have any goats on your farm died after losing weight steadily?  Did they develop severe diarrhoea?  Did their condition worsen over a period of weeks or months?

Johne’s disease is a particular problem in cattle and deer for several reasons. It causes slowly progressive and incurable scouring and weight loss leading to death or euthanasia.

Most animals on the farm will be lame at some time or other, especially the animals that live to a good age like horses, ponies, donkeys, dairy cows, pet goats and sheep.

You know how uncomfortable it is when you have a stone in your shoe, or an infected toe-nail?  Then you can imagine how painful it is for your horse or pony when he has an injured or infected foot.

Practically every farmer has to deal with lame livestock at some time or other.  It’s a common problem in goats and sheep, and it can be a problem in cattle.  Occasionally it’s a problem in deer.

Yes, it’s a mouthful, but “neurological” just means “relating to the central nervous system”, and the central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord.

Some livestock just don’t do as well as they should, even when they have plenty of pasture.

Lumps, bumps, bruises and swellings of all types are all too common in livestock.  So if you spot a lump on your horse or cattle-beast or sheep, what does it mean? 

Abortions can occur at any stage of pregnancy, although usually only mid to late-term aborted foetuses are big enough to be noticed.

Spring is a wonderful time on the farm. It means a new crop of youngsters - lambs and kids, calves and foals - beautiful, delicate little creatures that represent your farming future.

In late pregnancy and early lactation, ewes and cows are under great metabolic stress. Their foetuses grow fast in late pregnancy, and after giving birth they have to produce a lot of milk.

Hypomagnesaemia is relatively common in cows in heavy lactation and on lush pasture (inadequate energy intake and low magnesium content).

Milk fever in beef and dairy cows occurs most often in high producing older cows within 48 hours of calving, but it can occur several weeks before or after calving.

When cows with metabolic disease go down, it may be difficult to get them on their feet again - they become ‘downer cows’.

For just about as long as animals have been farmed, they’ve been routinely subjected to several painful husbandry/surgical procedures that make it easier for their owners to manage them - and they may make life easier for the animals too.

Most male cattle, sheep and goats are castrated while they are young, to make their management easier.  It goes without saying that castration can be a very painful and distressing experience for the animal.

Disbudding of calves and kids means removing the very early developing horn base to prevent horn growth. It’s a procedure carried out routinely for management reasons.

FE is a disease of sheep, cattle, goats, and deer. It also affects alpacas but not horses.

Foot problems can affect all sorts of animals at any time of year and should be treated promptly. Animals need to be able to walk to access food and shelter and an animal in constant pain is not going to thrive.

Cattle, goats, sheep and other ruminants have no upper incisors - they have a hard dental pad and their bottom incisors (eight of them) bite against that.

When farm animals develop acute pneumonia the signs are dullness and difficulty with breathing (heaving sides, rapid breathing, head low and extended).

When giving injections always get veterinary advice to make sure the injections are appropriate and you know the correct procedure.

Ryegrass staggers is a neurological disease of sheep, cattle, horses and ponies, deer and alpaca. Alpacas appear to be particularly susceptible.

Gastrointestinal worms (in the stomach and intestine) are without doubt one of the biggest threats to the health and welfare of grazing animals in New Zealand.

Most adult round worms live in the gut of the animal, (usually the small intestine) where they suck the animal’s blood, reproduce and shed eggs that pass out in the faeces on to the pasture.

Drench (anthelmintic) resistance is a huge and growing problem on livestock farms, particularly with sheep and goats.

Vaccination of ewes against the clostridial diseases such as pulpy kidney and tetanus is good insurance against losses in lambs.

Iodine is another vital nutrient and a trace element, and although deficiencies are not as common as those caused by copper, selenium and magnesium, deficiencies can still occur in a few areas.

It is very tempting for lifestylers to adopt an orphan lamb or goat kid, or to buy a very young calf to hand rear.

Diarrhoea (or scours) can be a problem in hand-reared lambs, calves and kids in the first week or two of life.

Drench resistance is a real threat to future worm control in goats, sheep and cattle.  About 80% of milking goat herds and 65% of sheep flocks may already be affected, and on some goat farms, resistance to all three drench families has been recorded.

Flystrike is a horrible disease. In flystrike, blowflies lay eggs on the skin. Maggots hatch from the eggs and eat into the skin causing sores. This is a horrible sight for even the most experienced farmer.

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