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Detecting sick cattle

Trust and observation are keys to detecting illness

You can tell when family members are sick, even if they say they feel fine. They just don't behave right. Animals aren't much different.

Dee Griffin is with the University of Nebraska's Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center.  He says when cattle feel ill, they are genetically programmed to do everything they can to not look sick. In the food chain, if an animal looks sick, predators consider it easy prey.

Griffin says to get to know your cattle when they're calves. Spend some time with them so they trust you and not hide.

"Kneel down. When you kneel down, you change your physical presence so those calves will come up and try to sniff at you. Move slow, avoid loud noises, those kinds of things," says Griffin. "And spend enough time with them that when you step into the pen, they don't spook and all run to the back. Such that when you walk in the pen, they'll look at you with those eyes about "I don't feel good today. Can you help me?"

Griffin says cattle will look depressed, hold their heads down, and not eat much. Their appetite usually goes down before their temperatures go up. However, body temperature can rise for various reasons.

Griffin advises cattle owners to keep a stethoscope handy. He says you can see animals breathe, but listening to the air move inside them helps you determine if you're dealing with a respiratory illness.

"When they're breathing fast, it may be because they have pneumonia or it may be that they're just excited. And if they're breathing really fast, you hear the air a little bit louder. But if they have inflammation, when the blood moves into their lungs, as the airways change, that air turbulence becomes much louder, almost like you're trying to whistle," says Griffin.

The longer it takes to get them treated, the greater complications. Allow plenty of time each day to check on your cattle so when you see a change in behavior, you can take action.

Learn more about how to identify sick cattle

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