Basic Livestock and Equine Care for Beginners

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More people are wanting to know where their food is coming from and as well as having an interest in raising livestock. With more people interested in starting a small farm or having a horse, it’s important to understand basic animal husbandry and the needs that animals require to keep them healthy. With more generations being removed from the farm, there are many misconceptions that people believe when it comes to livestock and equine. This article will cover basic care topics for anyone who is considering owning livestock or equine or has just started.

For all species of animals, nutrition and water are by far the two most important aspects of keeping and raising animals. All species have different nutrient requirements and some even have a different digestive system compared to others. All animals need clean and fresh water daily. Cattle require on average 20-40 gallons of water per day, horses require 20-25 gallons/day, and sheep and goats require 3-5 gallons per day. When purchasing feed, it is important to buy specie specific feed. If you have sheep do not buy goat feed for example. This goes back to the different nutrient requirements for species. Commercial feed from farm stores is required to have labels on them and information about how much to feed each animal. Please pay attention to the labels to ensure that your animals are consuming the correct amount of feed. Animals’ nutrition requirements will change throughout the year as well as throughout different production stages.

Having the right amount of space for your animals is important as well and can be a big role in nutrition. Especially for pastured animals. A pasture is not just a fenced-in area. Pastures should have plenty of desired forages for them to consume, not bare dirt or weeds that they will not eat. Some plants are toxic to animals, so it is important to know what plants you have growing in your pastures. Also, pastures have a carrying capacity which is the max number of animals that pastures can feed. This number will depend from farm to farm but in general, an average recommendation is 2-3 acres/cow, 1 acre/5 sheep or goats, and 2-3 acres/horse. Less acreage for pastures means that more feed has to be supplemented to maintain their nutrient requirements. If acreage gets too low or pastures are mismanaged it can create mud or manure concentrated areas which can lead to animal welfare concerns even if nutrition is being supplemented. Along with pasture and space for animals, they also need shelter from the sun, heat, wind, rain, storms, etc. Heat and sun are the main concern. Animals overheating and going through heat stress can cause detrimental loss.

Most of the time, animals will be out in a pasture setting, but there are times when it may be necessary to keep animals in a barn, pen, or lot. When it comes to these situations, all of these housing areas need to be kept clean and sanitary as well as meet the minimum spacing requirements for each species at their certain production stages. Mismanaged areas will lead to an unhealthy environment and provide unsafe conditions for the animals. All areas and pastures need to have above-average fencing. Not only to keep animals in but to keep unwanted animals out. Different species can require different fencing requirements, so it is important to understand the needs of each type of animal.

Animal health is the next biggest concern with it comes to animal welfare. Not providing care for animal health can be just as harmful as not providing nutrition. With that being said, if you have animals, it is important to have a close relationship with a veterinarian. If an animal does not receive the proper care when it is sick, it is an automatic animal welfare issue. All species have the ability to get diseases and illnesses just like humans. It is important to know what to look for and what is not normal when it comes to animal health. Certain species may require specific grooming or hoof care. For example, wool-type sheep need to be sheared at least once a year to keep them cool. Hoof care is really important for horses and often times needed for sheep and goats. Nutrition, management, and housing play a huge role in animal health.

In summary, if one chooses to raise and care for any type of animal, it is important to know as much as possible about those animals. Animals need to have above adequate nutrition, health, and overall management practices to ensure they are living in a healthy environment. If at any point an animal is being mismanaged whether it be neglect, poor nutrition or environment, or physical abuse it is unlawful and breaks the Animal Welfare Act which can lead to fines or imprisonment. We all want to provide the best environment for our livestock and equine. Sometimes it may be as simple as not knowing the best way to care for our animals and that is okay. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you have any questions or are interested in raising livestock or equine, feel free to call the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Randolph County Center at 336-318-6000.