Farm Animal Herd Health Exams

Lambing, kidding, and pre- and post-breeding are all ideal times for health assessments of sheep and goats. In the past, sheep shearers and other farmers were looked to as the experts in herd and flock health. Indeed, all these people have a great deal of experience with these animals and are experts in their own way. However, when it comes to each farm’s unique management methods and animal-specific requirements, a veterinarian can often provide clarity when conflicting advice is received.

Recently, I have done several wellness exams on many sheep, goats, cattle, and horses. This week, I was pleasantly surprised to examine a large flock of sheep who all had good FAMACHA scores and most had nearly ideal body conditions. Other flock exams over the last month have revealed unhealthy animals:

• Some flocks have had a large range of FAMACHA scores – from nice red eyelid conjunctiva to pale conjunctiva. As anyone familiar with FAMACHA scoring will know, the pale color is suggestive of anemia (low red blood cells), which is suggestive of high gastrointestinal parasite load, specifically Haemonchus, aka the Barber Pole Worm.

• Some flocks have had thin sheep that appeared fat wearing their woolen coats. I have examined many goats and sheep with their winter coats this year. It is essential to put your hands on all livestock to assess body condition, especially in the winter. Horses, sheep, and goats, can disguise a very thin body under a bushy winter coat.

My herd/flock health checks usually include the above health assessments for all animals. It is very helpful to have a third helper to take notes, marking off on a spreadsheet FAMACHA and body condition scores as well as any other notes or medications. Working with a handler, and a record-keeper, clients have found these health checks to be valuable. Not only do we often vaccinate all the animals, but I more closely examine animals with specific health problems, and also discuss any other management concerns during the visit. This may be nutrition, parasite management, problems associated with lambing or kidding, unusual skin conditions, foot care, or whatever else arises.

Beyond routine vaccinations and wellness exams, these flock / herd health checks have proven valuable in identifying opportunities for improvement in animal health and production. Call or email today to discuss your needs with Dr. Johnson and to schedule an appointment.

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