Animal health: putting together a first-aid kit for livestock

Animals are exposed daily to the hazards of the natural environment. They also behave instinctively. In combination, these two factors place them at constant risk of accident, injury and disease. With this in mind, it’s important that farmers understand how to treat certain medical emergencies in livestock, and that they have the first-aid tools at hand to do so. While an intervention may not be enough to ‘cure’ an animal, it can buy time before a veterinarian arrives, and this could end up saving the animal’s life.

Keeping an emergency stock of livestock medications on the farm is all very well, but many farmers neglect to check their first-aid kits regularly, and may only realise that products are missing or expired when an animal becomes sick or injured. So, when putting together a first- aid kit for sheep, goats and cattle, ask yourself:

  • What diseases, conditions and injuries are most likely to occur? This will help you choose the instruments, medications and materials you will always need available;
  • Who will be using the first-aid kit, and does this person have enough training in first aid for animals?

A well-equipped first-aid kit has three separate sections. The first contains injectable medications and vaccines, which normally require refrigeration. The second includes topical medications, sprays and antibiotics, which usually only need to be kept cool. And the third has instruments, bandages, wound dressings and cotton wool, most of which just need to be kept dry and clean.

Livestock remedies that require refrigeration expire relatively early, and the expiry date, together with the optimal storage temperature, is printed on the package. They can be kept in a large, sealed plastic container that fits into the same refrigerator in which you store vaccines. Some injectable antibiotics, notably tetracyclines, should be kept under cool conditions, but not refrigerated.

First-aid components such as soap, disinfectants, gel lubricants, wound salves, powders and sprays can be kept in a plastic tool box. This can be transported easily to the livestock that needs treatment. In the same toolbox you can include a pair of scissors, a rectal thermometer, a stethoscope, sterile needles (green, yellow and pink), syringes (3mℓ, 5mℓ, 10mℓ and 20mℓ), scalpels, blood-collecting tubes and sterile gloves.

Bandages, cotton wool and wound dressings are bulky, so they should be stored in a third container and protected from dirt and moisture.

It’s a good idea to keep the last two containers in a kitchen cabinet close to the refrigerator where you store the medications and vaccines. If the room is fitted with a sink for washing hands and equipment after treating the animals, so much the better

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