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Extract from Home Farm Magazine

No 68 February 1987                Copyright   Pam Shaw


Simple Stand-bys I Wouldn't Be Without by Pam Shaw


A vet once said to me "Do you know what would cure most of the diseases around here? F.O.O.D. ".   It took us a while before we realised he wasn't talking about some new wonder drug. But it wasn't proper feeding I was thinking about now, although I, too, think that it is as important for an animal as it is for ourselves. It is easy to be taken in by scientific rations worked out at so many pence a day when it is perfectly obvious that animals are individuals with different needs and responses which cannot be catered for by such convenient short-cuts to proper stockmanship. I was thinking of things in animal care which need no vet's prescription, have no side effects, but can produce almost magical results. 

The heat lamp
The first of these must be the heat-lamp, the ordinary infra-red lamp available from most agricultural suppliers and vets. It costs only a few pennies a day to run and is truly invaluable. We have only had electricity for a 'few years and before that, with the generator, the heat-lamp was probably impractical, but for anyone with electricity, a lamp must be the first thing reached for with a sick animal, especially a baby one. We always make a pen, insulated on all sides with straw bales (with wooden roof to minimise the fire risk), because the important thing is to keep the heat in. It is surprising how much heat is actually given off by these lamps, a penetrating warmth like sunlight with the added advantage of being able to observe the patient very clearly even at night.

At lambing time we have three of these pens in operation all the time - one for the weaker pet lambs, one for any sick lamb and one for the newly-born. Most of our lambing is done outside, often in very severe weather, but all twins are brought inside for at least twenty-four hours. When I first started using a Suffolk tup, I found the cross lambs particularly prone to chilling and that once chilled, they would not make the vital first sucks of life-giving colostrum. Most Suffolk cross lambs now go under the lamp for a few hours. Once dry and warm they become the vigorous and greedy lambs one associates with the breed: they never look back.

I have noticed that lambs that are chilled at birth or do not suck within the first couple of hours of life, are far more prone to E. coli or pneumonia later on. The fact that these first hours have such an important effect on later performance makes a lamp even more valuable. Friesland crosses with their multiple births and extraordinarily wet lambs also benefit from a spell under the lamp, although these ewes usually lamb inside.

A heat lamp can be of use all the year round. Almost any sick animal will show a positive response to the warmth. The pen must be very thoroughly disinfected between patients especially at lambing time, because bacteria also thrive in the warm, moist conditions. Not only bacteria either. One lamb- ing time a sparrow caused a great deal of amusement by repeatedly basking under one of the lamps whenever the lambs moved away.


Glucose must come next. I always have some in the house, most obviously for use at lambing time. A very weak new- born lamb is often not fit enough to take colostrum even if it is fed by stomach-tube. If no colostrum is available immediately for new lambs, milk must not be fed in its place because this would hinder the later uptake of proteins and antibodies by the stomach walls. But glucose, while not interfering with the later absorption of colostrum, will provide the first vital energy and inner-warmth necessary for survival. The lamb should be rubbed gently with a towel and warmed first before the glucose is given to prevent further chilling caused by digestion.

Glucose is also a valuable aid during convalescence after many illnesses, particularly those to do with the digestive processes, such as a severe worm infestation, coccidiosis or E. coli in lambs. I have also used it after pneumonia (where breathing difficulties make the patient unwilling to feed), meningitis and CCN (when the patient is too disorientated to take food). For older animals (ie those not taking a bottle), I mix the glucose powder to a smooth paste and feed on a spoon. Of course one wouldn't feed glucose alone over a long period but I have kept a ewe going for a week on just glucose and water. She had severe metritis (inflammation of the womb) which developed into meningitis when the infection lodged in her brain. All her wool fell out and she got very thin, but she is now as fit as a fiddle and in lamb again. Glucose is rarely refused and is very cheap.


And so to kaolin! Truly a wonder medicine. As a powder mixed to a smooth paste, it is invaluable for any animal suffering from scour (diarrhoea) or a sore stomach (stomachs, I suppose, for a ruminant). Kaolin will help to dry up scour, absorb painful gases, and soothe stomach pains. It is also extremely palatable. In fact the sicker the animal, the more eagerly it will take it. And once again, it is very cheap and safe.

As a poultice, kaolin will draw out infection in surface wounds, septic joints or (for example) footrot that has formed an abscess. The tin containing the poultice is heated in hot water to a temperature that is as hot as the animal can bear (try it yourself first and remember the part being treated is very sore). It is then applied direct to the wound (I cover the wound with gauze first if it is open) on a bandage which is then bound round the wounded area to keep the heat in. This should be done daily for several days but is well worth the trouble.


Yoghurt and comfrey
What else? Yoghurt (fed on a spoon) to re-establish friendly bacteria in the stomach when anti-biotics have killed friend and foe alike. Comfrey to heal flesh and mend bones. I have used comfrey for both these. Using the leaves crushed inside a splint in a compound fracture too messy and bloody for plaster. She was a lamb then and she's a four-crop ewe now - still going strong if slightly squint. I used comfrey leaves and a wash of comfrey tea after a severe case of gangrene had left a mass of exposed flesh needing to be healed. This was after all the antibiotics and once the wound had started to mend. Everything had to be kept very clean.

I would never belittle the contribution of antibiotics to animal care. Anyone who has seen a life saved by them knows how important they are. But they do not work miracles. They are only an aid. The ability to get better is in the animal itself. And our job is to help them.

P.S. Kaolin powder for scour and kaolin poultice for treatment of external wounds can be obtained in small quantities from most chemists or in bulk from the vet.


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