Expert Advice for Pets & Livestock

Texans love farm animals as much as we love our cats and dogs and Dr. Nathan Carlton of Jarrell Animal Hospital is well versed on all of those. He has some advice and guidance for hobby and FFA farmers to help us understand the needs and benefits IN our diverse universe of companion animals.

Can you share some benefits and concerns for specific farm animals?

Farm animals enrich our lives by providing meat or eggs but they can also help us by providing an agricultural exemption for the land. Those benefits are a great way to lower your tax burden but there are a lot of things to consider first. 

Make sure you have a facility prepared to care for them. Cattle are a common choice in Central Texas and they are easy to own but what happens if one is sick? How will you vaccinate and deworm the animal every year? If you own 20 cows you will have 20-25,000 pounds of animals to corral, so setting up a good set of working pens with a functioning head gate and squeeze is essential. Without those items you won’t be able to vaccinate, let alone work on one when sick. 

How much space is reasonable to raise certain animals?

Animal units (AU) are a way to describe the carrying capacity of a piece of land. One AU is a full-size cow-calf pair; one horse is usually 1.3 AUs. You may have four goats per AU for full-sized meat goat breeds or perhaps six pygmy goats per AU. The total AUs for your land depends on soil type and annual precipitation. Fortunately, we have a general landmark—stocking density is typically lower west of I-35 than on the east side. A good starting point is one AU for every four acres on the east side; one AU for every eight acres on the west. You may need to adjust based on the amount and condition of the grass through the seasons. For instance,  you could run four large goats on a five-acre lot on the east side of town but drop to two for the same size lot on the west side. It may be tempting to have more, especially this time of year when it seems like there is plenty of grass for many animals. Always remember, come August, there won’t be much to eat on the ground and in winter you may be in the same spot. Even if you are okay feeding them hay you will want to keep the density low to prevent over grazing and heavy parasitism. 

Are there animals I should not raise together?

Generally, we do not raise goats and sheep in the same area. Both are susceptible to copper poisoning; sheep more so than goats. Both species need loose mineral to supplement their diet but if you feed a goat-based supplement with sheep in the area they will eventually develop copper poisoning. Housing chickens and turkeys is also not a good idea. Turkeys can transmit Blackhead and other bacterial diseases to chickens. 

What are some basic health concerns to keep in mind to keep animal healthy?

All animals need fresh water and some shelter. If you have cattle and there are no trees around to keep them out of rain and sunlight you might consider putting up an overhang or lean-to. Vaccinations are a great way to keep away some easily preventable diseases like over-eating disease in goats or blackleg in cattle. Deworming every year will help reduce death loses and improve the gains you see on your animals. I recommend working with a vet to figure out a good vaccine and deworming schedule for your livestock.

How do I know if my animal is sick and needs a vet?

Sometimes it is obvious—a cow with a laceration or lame goat, but sometimes the signs are less obvious. If you see your goat pressing his head against the fence or hear her grinding her teeth that is a problem of pain. In general, if you are at all worried about the health or welfare of your animal, call a vet early. There aren’t many food animal vets around so a late-day call means less chance he or she will be able to get to you. 

Do my farm animals need stimulation for good emotional health?

Yes. Farm animals are prey species so they do better in groups than alone. I also think it is a good idea to be around your animals as much as possible. This way they are used to you and can be easier to handle when it comes time to calve or vaccinate. 

Full-service veterinary hospital equipped to provide quality veterinary medicine for the needs of pets in Central Texas

191 Town Center Boulevard, Jarrell • 512-598-3036 • [email protected]