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Why keep animals healthy?

A healthy animal is more able to resist diseases and can recover more easily when it does get sick. A sick animal costs a farmer money and time. A farmer with a sick animal has to buy medicines, syringes and needles. It is therefore better for a farmer if animals stay healthy and do not get sick.

Treatment is also more successful if it is given early, before the animal is so sick that the medicine cannot help it. This means that a farmer must be able to tell very quickly if he or she has a sick animal, what sickness it has and what he or she can do about it.

Goats can be kept healthy by:

  • Ensuring that they have access to enough feed of the correct quality
  • Ensuring they have access to clean water
  • Following a vaccination programme against common diseases
  • Keeping internal and external parasites under control
  • Keeping sick goats separate so that disease does not spread to healthy goats
  • Making sure that any goats introduced to the flock are disease-free
  • Sheltering goats from adverse weather.

If a goat does get sick it needs to be treated. More importantly, it is essential to keep a record of goats that you treat because if a particular animal gets sick often, it should be culled as it is a weak individual and is not only costing you money but is also passing on its genes to the next generation.

How do I know if my goat is sick? If the goat is sick:

  • It will appear dull and listless
  • It may have obvious symptoms of sickness such as coughing or diarrhoea
  • It may not follow the rest of the flock when they go out to feed
  • It may have an abnormal temperature – either too high or too low.

Why is flock health important?

One sick animal can sometimes contaminate other healthy animals and cause them to get sick too. This can also result in the sick animal getting re-infected after it has recovered.

Sometimes when a farmer has many sick animals, or a neighbour has sick animals, it means that the amount of disease in the area is very high. It is very difficult to keep individual animals healthy when there is a lot of disease around.  Farmers who are aware of common diseases in their area need to think strategically about how to combat these diseases as a community rather than trying to just keep their own animals healthy.

This is also true of parasites that cause diseases, like ticks and worms. If some animals have a lot of ticks or worms, then it is difficult to stop the ticks and worms spreading to all the animals in a herd.

So before we consider how to treat diseases, it is best to think about how to recognise healthy animals and how to keep them healthy.

What keeps animals healthy?

The immune system keeps the animal healthy. All animals and people have immune systems. The job of the immune system is to fight germs that invade the animal and could cause it to get sick. The immune system is like the animal’s own army, ready at all times to fight invaders that put the animal’s life at risk.

The immune system is found everywhere in the animal’s body. It is made up of millions of little cells that are too small for people to see with their eyes. When germs enter the animal’s body, these immune cells come from all over to attack the germs. If the cells win the battle, the animal stays healthy. If they lose the battle, the animal may get sick and need treatment. The cells are produced in the bone marrow and then spread around the body in the blood.

The immune system can recognise diseases if it has fought these diseases before. With some diseases, like contagious abortion (CA), this recognition lasts the animal’s whole life. With other diseases, however, the immune system can recognise the disease when it is present often but stops being able to recognise it when the animal hasn’t had it for a long time. Common diseases of this kind are those that ticks cause. This is one reason why animals often get sick in early dry season when there are a lot of ticks after there have been so few in wet seasons. Once the animal’s immune system is used to the ticks again, then the animal can often fight the tick diseases.

Livestock owners who come from areas where the disease heartwater occurs must be very careful about buying animals from other areas, because if they come from areas that do not have heartwater, the animals’ immune systems will not recognise the disease and cannot protect them and they will get sick and may even die.

It is also important to know that, like an army, the immune system is divided into different sections, each one of which has its own germs to fight. For example, one section fights redwater but it cannot fight heartwater. Only the heartwater section of the immune system can fight heartwater. This means that just because the immune system can recognise one disease does not mean it can recognise all diseases.

One way of getting an animal to have contact with a weakened form of the disease without killing the animal is vaccination. Some vaccinations must be given every year while others need only be given once in an animal’s life. Another way for the animal to develop its immune system is through the infant animal being born with some of its mother’s immune cells. Infant livestock also develop stronger immune systems if they suckle their mothers very soon after birth to drink the first milk called colostrum, which is filled with the mother’s immune cells (antibodies).

Animals that do not spend too much of their energy on getting warm or staying cool are more able to recover from disease. It is therefore wise to provide sick animals with shade and shelter from wind and rain to keep the animal warm and comfortable.

Why is food important?

No matter how good your animal’s immune system, if it is constantly hungry and very malnourished, it will eventually become sick. This is because a malnourished animal’s immune system cannot successfully fight all the different diseases trying to attack it. One or more of these diseases will eventually defeat the immune system of the hungry animal, making it weaker and more susceptible to all the other diseases waiting to attack.

It is better to try to feed an animal properly so that it is generally in good condition.  If it gets sick, such an animal is more likely to recover from illness than a hungry, thin one. A well-fed animal that gets sick can sometimes recover by itself without treatment.

It is therefore important that animals have enough good quality food so that they are able to maintain their immune system and to fight disease. A well-fed animal is usually a healthy animal with a strong immune system. In wet season when there is not enough good quality food, animals can get sick very easily. Animals that are fed properly are also generally more productive, producing more milk, growing faster and having a shorter period between subsequent kids (preferably giving birth three times or 4 times  in a two year period).

What is the importance of good hygiene practices?

Hygiene or cleanliness is an important part of keeping your livestock and yourself healthy. Germs and organisms that cause disease and illness can spread between sick and healthy animals if you do not maintain cleanliness such as washing your hands and cleaning your equipment after treating.

Vaccination (preventative health care)

Farmers need to be aware of common diseases that affect goats in their area and then follow an appropriate vaccination programme. Vaccination is only possible for certain diseases. With these diseases, you can give the healthy animal an injection that will stop it contracting a particular disease. This is different to treating an animal once it is sick.

One of the key vaccines you can give a goat is

Multivax P   This will control pasteurella (lung infections), pulpy kidney, tetanus, black quarter

Young goats: inject at 4-5 months and repeat at 5-6 months

Adult goats: Repeat annually in September (and repeat after 4 weeks).

Other vaccinations should only be given if a problem is positively identified by a vet or animal health technician, for example: enzootic abortion, Brucella melitensis (also commonly called CA).

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