Ag-note: Small Ruminant Welfare: Early Life Stages

Ariel Taylor, Hailey Snyder, Mackenzie Campbell, and Adam Lannutti, OSU Animal Science Undergraduate Students
Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team

Small Ruminant Welfare: Early Life StagesĀ 
** Follow the link above to view the Ag-note.

In this weeks Ag-note, Animal Sciences students Ariel Taylor, Hailey Snyder, Mackenzie Campbell, and Adam Lannutti discuss an important topic, small ruminant welfare during the early stages of life. This topic is of high importance, especially as many producers in the state Ohio approach the lambing season. In today’s society, consumers are becoming more and more interested in the manner in which we manage and interact with our livestock and rightfully so. In general, many members of society are several generations removed from the farm and they are searching for ways to further associate themselves with the products in which they purchase. We want to point out that this discussion is not a way to illustrate who is right or wrong, but rather that

regardless of the assumptions and or questions of society regarding animal agriculture, we as managers and livestock care takers should be doing our best to up hold the best welfare management practices on our farms. Not only does this ensure transparency with our consumers, but more importantly it ensures the welfare, care, and overall performance of our animals.

In order for us to fully understand the meaning of welfare, we must first review how to assess it. The easiest manner in which to assess animal welfare is to ensure that animals have access to the the 5 freedoms. The 5 freedoms are as followed:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

In today’s Ag-note, we will focus on freedoms #2 and #3. These two freedoms are of particular importance as they focus on animal discomfort and pain. In livestock production there are specific procedures that are performed from a management standpoint that are known to be painful. As researchers, students, and livestock care takers, it is our responsibility that we perform these practices for the right reasons during the appropriate time frame.

For example, as producers have lambs and kids hitting the ground this winter and spring, it is important to keep up to date with management practices. Common management procedures that should occur at a young age include disbudding, castration, and tail docking. Although not immediately recognized as a needed management practice, these procedures are essential to ensuring that no further welfare issues arise in the future (i.e. fly strike do to long tails leading to manure build up or improper mounting and aggression as a result of leaving males intact). Ideally, these procedures should be completed around 24 hours after birth. We understand that due to time constraints and other issues that this may not be feasible. A recommendation would be that these processes take place when you remove the animals from their bonding pen or lambing/kidding jug. You more than likely will be handling the lambs and kids during this time period, why not take advantage of this opportunity at the same time? There are several methods that can be used in order to perform these tasks. Be sure to visit the poster attached above and below to check out the student recommendations.

Some of you may be thinking, what about pain management? This is an excellent question. Unfortunately, there are currently no local anesthetics or analgesias licensed in the United States for use in sheep. For those interested, anesthetics help reduce pain during a procedure whereas analgesias are used for supportive care in which help alleviate pain after the procedure has occurred. Keep in mind that this is where it is critical that you develop a firm vet-client relationship. Under veterinary consultation and supervision you will be able to provide your animals with supportive care. For those performing the procedures listed above beyond 2 weeks of age, implementing the above listed forms of pain relief are highly recommended.

In addition, the welfare and care of our animals shouldn’t stop at the first week of life. We also have to consider the time periods pre and post weaning. It is well documented that weaning is one of the most stress periods in a young animals life. Changes in social bonds, diet, and environment are just a few of the factors that further amplify issues associated with weaning stress. During weaning it is critical to keep newly weaned livestock as comfortable as possible. Introducing feed to the offspring prior to weaning will help assist with diet transition for example.

The bottom line is that good welfare management practices will result in fewer costs in terms of labor, feedstuffs, and medications. It is important that we continue to make improvements in our management techniques to improve the overall well-being of the livestock in our care. For more tips and suggestions on how to improve your operation at home, please click on the link below!

Small Ruminant Welfare: Early Life StagesĀ 
** Follow the link above to view the Ag-note.