Picture by permission of Greg Brann, NRCS, Grazing Soil Health Specialist
Do you remember the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" The livestock industry practices this on a regular basis in order to keep animals healthy. Livestock producers prefer to prevent sickness rather than treat sickness. Treating sick animals is not only expensive, it can be very time consuming. Here are some common techniques producers use to keep their animals healthy and avoid having to treat them.
Just like human nutrition where people eat a healthy diet and may also take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement, livestock producers balance rations for their animals to insure a healthy diet. To do this, producers test feeds and then match amounts of nutrients from the feeds to the animals' nutrient requirements. The National Research Council publishes nutrient requirement books for a wide variety of species. Nutrient requirement tables within these books account for different ages of animals and their production status. Requirements differ for various production statuses such as breeding, pregnancy, milk production, animal growth and performance. Horse owners who don't ride their horses very often feed those horses a lot differently than horses that may be working every day. In addition to the feeds, producers provide trace mineral mixtures formulated with salt to adjust for nutrient deficiencies from the feeds. Why is nutrition so important? Growth rates, reproductive efficiency and especially immune system function all rely on good nutrition for best performance. Good mineral nutrition also boosts an animal's response to vaccinations, a primary method to protect animals from disease.
I can't stress enough the importance of a clean and dry environment with good ventilation. Animals are well adapted to handle cold temperatures when they are well fed and have a good hair coat or wool length. Good ventilation can result in good air quality. This is why livestock producers keep barns cleaned out and well bedded during the winter months. It is also why animals give birth to their young on pastures. Cleanliness is the key.
Livestock producers carefully choose vaccination products to best meet the needs of their individual operation. They choose vaccines based on prior experience with disease on their farm as well as the likelihood of exposure to diseases. Producers read product labels and handle vaccinations properly. Simple procedures producers follow include proper storage temperature, vaccinating clean and dry animals, injecting with clean needles and injecting with the correct method. Producers also check expiration dates and discard expired products. Only healthy animals get vaccinated so that the immune system best utilizes the vaccine. And, producers vaccinate at least two weeks prior to a stressful event such as weaning, transporting or castrating.
One means that animal diseases arrive on a farm is through contact with other animals that may or may not appear sick. Producers who exhibit their animals at various shows will house these animals separate from the main herd or flock once those animals return home from the show. This quarantine period should last three to four weeks before those animals can be mixed with the rest of the herd or flock on the farm. However, animal diseases can also arrive on a farm through indirect contact. This occurs when producers visit other farms, transport animals to a sale barn, or even visit a county fair. Once the producer arrives back at the home farm, they change clothing and shoes to avoid exposing their own animals to bacteria and viruses that could be carried home on their clothing or footwear.
Prevention programs are not fool proof: livestock operations can still develop sick animals on occasion. However, the goal is to minimize the risk of animals getting sick so that the need for treatment is less likely. Farmers observe animals on a daily basis so they can identify very quickly when problems arise. Sick animals are moved to a location away from the main herd or flock and treated as necessary. Livestock producers work tirelessly to raise high quality and healthy animals.