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before your goat/sheep/llama/livestock becomes deathly ill...

steward & author
Posts: 35036
Location: Left Coast Canada
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This weekend we had a very frustrating and expensive experience dealing with veterinarians in effort to save a goat's life. Thankfully the goat is starting to recover, but wouldn't have if I had just accepted what my first Vet said.

I learned a lot with this experience, and it got me thinking (I do that a lot when I'm up all night fending off the grim reaper) about all the things I wish I knew BEFORE this crisis. It also got me thinking about all the things I actually did know and that I should have had confidence in myself about.

In effort to transform this infuriating situation into a positive experience, let's talk about all the good things to know BEFORE your animal comes down with an acute situation.

These are my thoughts:

1. Have a guru in your area, within easy driving distance, for each livestock you raise. Better still have two gurus per livestock kind, that way if you can't reach the first, the second can usually help you. Call your guru before you call the vet. The guru will tell you when it's an actual call the vet emergency and when things will work themselves out. Even my gurus have their own gurus for just such occasions.

2. Know in advance which local vets treat your kinds of livestock (some will treat sheep but not goats, very few will treat llamas and almost no one treats chickens ), for each kind of livestock. Know their hours and have the phone numbers either programed into your phone, or if you are like me and have one of those steam powered phones, have the numbers and hours written down. Even better, keep a copy of the numbers actually near where the animals live so you don't have to do like I did and waste 45 minutes looking for that blasted vet number, you know for the one that's actually open on Sundays, no, not them, I tried them, they are closed, the other one, yes I already looked next to the phone four times, but feel free to look again if you like. Talk to other people in your area about different vets (if you have more than one) but don't just go on the opinion. Try them all out for yourself with something simple like a fecal worm count or whatever. If the faecal worm test costs as much as a microscope and takes two days... maybe they aren't the vets to use.

3. If an animal is going to get sick/injured/trouble birthing/anything wrong that needs a vet's attention, it will happen after hours. It will not happen during normal veterinary hours. I would like to say this is simply my observation and not a hard and true fact of the world... however, I'm developing a rather large body of evidence which includes the experience of many farmers and I'm beginning to suspect there may be causal link here.

4. A ready first aid kit on hand with appropriate size needles (and plungers, since apparently they don't come together), nipples (if you are dealing with young animals), and something called Newcells (a vitamin shot with mostly B Vits in it - may go by another name in other countries), will get you through most emergencies until the vet opens monday morning. Also knowledge how to give shots to animals - another great reason to go to the vet if you aren't confident with needles, a good vet will train you.

5. Ongoing knowledge of current local disease issues for your kinds of livestock.

6. Trust in yourself and your knowledge. Willingness to listen to others more experienced and better trained than yourself. Confidence to ignore them if they don't give you a good reason for their opinion - ie, just because they are a vet and trained in veterinary medicine, them telling you that there is no treatment available for cocci in goats does not make it true (yes, I'm feeling very bitter about this and am super glad I double checked with a different vet otherwise I would have one less goat).

7. There are several different medicines that treat cocci in goats, three of them available in Canada right now. One of which actually kills all stages of cocci - BayCox

8. If the first expert you seek out gives you a dismal outcome for the animal with no possible treatment, ask someone different. When one expert says that 'there is no treatment for this available', what they may actually mean is 'we don't have the drugs you need, so go away'. Then again, there may not be a treatment and someone may try to sell you an expensive placebo. I guess, basically, a good way to ensure against either extreme is to ask lots of people and listen to their reply, then decide for yourself.

9. Learn about what medicines are available in your area. Give some thought ahead of time how you feel about off label use of medicine - for example a great many drugs are not approved for goat use, not because they are harmful, but because no one has been willing to fund the research. Some of those unapproved drugs are actually harmful. Some of those drugs will save lives. During an emergency you may not have time to ponder the philosophical dilemma of using drugs off label to save an animals life - and probably even less time to do any research on which drugs can be used and which will kill your critter outright. It's well worth taking the time before the crisis to decide if you are willing to go against the government's advice on this.

and ten - which is based on my personal observations and may only apply to the city where I live - Pet vets and livestock vets are very different to deal with.

When I visit a pet vet with a livestock issue, it usually costs me a great deal more than a livestock vet. I find that pet vets have trouble listening to my concerns and focus on what they can sell me. When I refuse to buy the ultra -deluxe-whatcha-thing, my level of service plummets. Pet vets don't expect me to know anything about my animals health, illness, parasites, problems, &c. and dislike me giving my thoughts on what the problem is (it doesn't help that I haven't been wrong in diagnosing yet) or what tests they need to run to confirm my suspicions.

Livestock vets on the other hand start out by asking how I manage my flock/herd. They ask several common livestock diagnosis questions as much for them to judge my ability to observe as to learn about the animals health. They talk with me about the risks and benefits for different treatment options BEFORE giving the drugs. They cost me 1/5th of the price of the pet vets. A shot of worm meds for example, from livestock vet $6, same from the pet vet, $37 (I gave the shot to the animal myself for both examples). Livestock vets are willing to listen to my theories on what the problem may be with the animal and offer advice on how we can find out if it's right or not. They seem to understand that I have these things called eyes and I can observe changes in livestock behaviour.

Like I said, this is my experience. It's possibly coming out more generalized than I want due to me still being frustrated by recent events.

To contradict what I just said: I know two pet vets who are extremely good with livestock people. I know a few livestock vets who are completely crap at treating animals. On the whole, however, there does appear to be a distinct divide between the two style of veterinary practice.

These are my thoughts and observations. Let's hear yours.
What did you wish you knew prior to an animal emergency?
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