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Purdue Extension: Expert Resources for COVID-19

4-H Animal Livestock: Tips for Avoiding Sickness

June 6, 2018
girl in 4-H showing sheep

Authors: Aaron Fisher, Bethany Funnell,
& Arin Weidner
Published: May 18, 2018
(Download the audio version)

4-H livestock show season is approaching, and a healthy animal is part of any successful animal project. This means 4-H members and their families should know the best management practices for livestock biosecurity before, during, and after livestock shows. The focus of 4-H animal science projects is the education of the 4-H member, and biosecurity is important in that process.

What can I do before leaving for the show to prevent or decrease the chances of my animal getting sick?

The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is applicable to show animals. For example, you wouldn’t want to take your crossbred barrow to a show where he might pick up a virus and return home sick. That same pig might even need to be healthy for a show the next week.

Prevention is one way to ensure your animal stays healthy and that you can showcase the hard work you’ve put into raising it.

One of the easiest things you can do to prevent disease in your animals is vaccination. Every species has its own set of viruses and bacteria common to those animals. The risk of infection from their common viruses and bacteria is higher if an animal is not vaccinated.

Vaccination timing is very important. Your animal should have a dose of vaccine two weeks before your show date. Young animals need two doses of vaccine, so their first dose must be delivered at least one month before the show date, followed by the second two weeks before the show.

Vaccinating your animal primes its immune system. An animal is at its highest exposure to risk and stress during the show. Vaccines ensure that the immune system functioning and prepared to fight any pathogens the animal is exposed to.

Since you can’t avoid all contact with other animals, what can you do to minimize the risk?

A show brings a lot of animals from different backgrounds into one location where viruses and bacteria can easily transmit between them. Viruses are the animals’ greatest risk. Although bacteria are also transmitted between animals, viruses pose the greater threat because they can float on particles of dust and water in the air. An animal doesn’t have to have direct contact with another animal to be affected by a virus.

Avoiding all contact with other animals isn’t feasible, but here are some tips to reduce the risk:

– Use a solid barrier, like a thin sheet of plywood, in your pen to separate contact with animals in adjoining pens.
– Arrange for your tack stall to be in-between your animal and other participants’ animals to create distance between them.
– Don’t allow nose-to-nose contact with strange animals.
– Ensure that all feed pans, water buckets, and anything that comes in contact with your animal have been thoroughly cleaned.

All of these little things can add up to preventing your animal from being infected.

Participants commonly let their friends share or borrow show equipment. Is this something 4-Hers shouldn’t do?

You want to be helpful to your friends and other participants, but without proper sterilization of your show equipment, you may be harming more than helping.

If you lend or borrow show equipment, give enough notice so the equipment can be cleaned and disinfected. This is especially important if that equipment comes in direct contact with your animal, such as feed pans, water buckets or bottles, combs, and clippers.

Fans or blowers wouldn’t necessarily be in direct contact with your animal, and a thorough cleaning would be sufficient to keep your animal healthy.

Five Principles to Good Cleaning and Disinfecting

  1. All foreign or organic material must be removed. Bacteria and viruses hide and remain active in fecal or dried-on matter.
  2. Ensure that the equipment is completely dry. Bacteria and viruses generally don’t thrive in dry environments.
  3. Use a disinfectant made to kill the pathogens that affect your animal’s species.
  4. Be mindful of the concentration of disinfectant used to clean equipment. Too diluted, and it’s not going to kill all the bacteria or viruses.
  5. Allow the disinfectant to be in contact with the surface it is disinfecting for the prescribed length of time before rinsing.

Examples of disinfectants:

What should you do if you notice your animal becoming sick while you’re at a livestock show?

Every livestock show has a veterinarian or veterinary service to address animal disease on site. The best thing you can do is have the livestock coordinator assist you in getting veterinary care as soon as possible. The veterinarian will recommend treatment and determine if your animal is healthy enough to stay on site or needs to leave the premises.

When you return home from the show, what can you do to minimize the risk of spreading disease to other animals on your farm?

This often gets overlooked when animals are taken to shows. Isolating animals after a show — ideally for 30 days — is important. This gives you time to observe your animal for any signs or symptoms of illness and prevent the rest of the herd or flock from becoming infected. If 30 days of isolation is too difficult to maintain, allow at least two weeks and record the animal’s temperature daily. Once you have observed normal temperatures for 7-10 days, you can return the animal to pasture or pen with the rest of the animals.

What medications should you consider giving your animal after returning home?

Always consult with your veterinarian about medications you are considering giving your animal. Many people may want to treat their animal with antibiotics; however, a veterinarian should monitor and recommend this before you administer anything.

What biosecurity concerns should you think about when purchasing a new animal?

When you purchase a new animal, you should follow the same process as if you were bringing an animal home from a livestock show. Isolate the new animal, ideally for 30 days but a minimum of 14. This gives it a chance to recover not only from any virus, but also from the stress of moving to a new environment. This is also time for the animal to get comfortable with the nutrition plan. After at least two weeks, with normal body temperatures for 7-10 days, you can start to co-mingle the animals.

Vaccinating new animals and monitoring their health as they begin to interact with the rest of your animals is also helpful. If you notice a new animal has a fever or abnormal food and water intake, or begins to show signs or symptoms of illness, contact your veterinarian right away.

By following these biosecurity guidelines, tips, and recommendations, you will set you and your animal up for a successful livestock season. Biosecurity ensures your animal stays healthy before, during, and after the show. Learning about biosecurity helps youth become responsible future livestock producers.

For more information about the Indiana 4-H Program visit the Indiana 4-H website or Facebook (@Indiana4H).

Aaron Fisher is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. He provides leadership to the Indiana 4-H Animal Science projects and develops opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about animals and agriculture.

Bethany Funnell, DVM is a clinical assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. Dr. Funnell was a 10-year 4-H member who was passionate about the beef project, showing cattle at the county, state, and national level.  

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming with the creation of technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities through partnerships with Extension staff and faculty.

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