Individual Animal Care for Small Ruminant

10/12/2017 - Woodstock, Conn. - Veterinarian Rachael Gately holds a lamb outside of the entrance to the Tufts Ambulatory Service on October 12, 2017. (Anna Miller/Tufts University) SHEEP OWNED BY Prof. Rachael Gately, who is holding them in the photo. She brought them in for the photo shoot specifically.

  • Wellness care is the cornerstone of small ruminants health at Tufts Veterinary Field Service. Comprehensive physical examinations, routine vaccinations, illness diagnosis, dental and fecal exams and developing deworming programs are all services offered to keep sheep, goats, alpacas and llamas strong and active. Tufts Veterinary Field Service is also able to diagnose pregnancy on location with a portable ultrasound machine.

    Many owners will reach out if they feel their animal is not eating properly, or if the animal is exhibiting signs of pain. Other concerns may include suspected urinary blockages, incoordination, the ingestion of poisonous plants, excessive grain consumption and challenges with parasites.

    If one of your small ruminants exhibits any of the following signs, call our clinic office immediately:

    • Will not eat
    • Lethargic/Inactive
    • Exhibits signs of pain (crying out, kicking at its belly, reluctant to lie down)
    • Appears lost or walks in circles uncontrollably
    • Limps
    • Consumes a toxic plant
      • Rhododendron
      • Azalea
      • Mountain Laurel
      • Choke Cherry
    • Consumes the incorrect grain or an excessive amount of grain (more than twice its normal meal)

    It is recommended that the owner take the rectal temperature of their animal prior to calling the office for an appointment. For reference, a normal temperature range for a sheep or goat is 102-103.5° F and 100-102° F for a llama or alpaca.

    In talking with one of our office staff members, or a veterinarian, you will be able to decide if and when your animal should be seen, either at our haul-in facility or on-farm, if within the geographical area that Tufts Veterinary Field Service covers.

    During the visit, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination including (but not limited to) checking the animal’s temperature, heart rate and organ system function. At the completion of the physical examination, the veterinarian will discuss potential causes for your animal’s illness, as well as possible diagnostic tests and treatments. Additional diagnostics available include:

    • Bloodwork (in-house or at outside laboratories)
    • Fecal Analysis
    • Portable Ultrasound (to aid in illness diagnosis, as well as pregnancy diagnosis)
    • Portable Digital X-ray
    • Feed Analysis
  • Vaccinations are an integral part of preventing disease in your sheep, goat, llama or alpaca.  Rabies and Clostridium Perfringens Types C & D - Tetanus Toxoid (CDT) are considered core vaccines for all small ruminants. There are other vaccines available, but their use is typically customized to individual farms based on necessity.

    Rabies is fatal virus that can infect the brain of small ruminants and humans. It is spread when an infected animal bites or scratches an uninfected animal. Rabies is endemic to New England, meaning it is regularly found in wild animal populations and CAN affect small ruminants. Tufts Veterinary Field Service typically treats a few cases of rabies each year. Protection is simple with an annual vaccine administered by a veterinarian. The vaccine can be given to all sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas over 12 weeks of age. Rabies vaccination is required for small ruminants being exhibited at fairs or shows in the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, but we recommend all that all of our patients are current on this vaccine.

    CDT is a well-known acronym that stands for a combination vaccine against Clostridium perfringens types C & D, as well as tetanus. These bacteria live in our soil, as well as in the normal intestinal flora of healthy animals. In the event of Clostridium perfringens overgrowth, your small ruminant may develop a fatal intestinal infection. Tetanus infection can lead to a fatal neuromuscular disease. The use of the CDT vaccine decreases the chance of contracting these diseases significantly. The vaccine is administered twice (one month apart) to weanlings, and then repeated annually thereafter. This schedule works for all small ruminants. Ideally, the annual booster is given to pregnant females approximately 30 days prior to giving birth, to provide protection to the kids through the colostrum.

  • Internal and external parasites are common in small ruminants. Veterinarians at Tufts Veterinary Field Service can help tailor a plan to prevent parasitism in your animal. In the event that they infect your animals, Tufts Veterinary Field Service can help diagnose their presence and aid in removal.

    Internal parasites are the most commonly discussed parasites of small ruminants because of the Internal parasites are significant causes of disease and death in small ruminants. Haemonchus contortus (Barber pole worm) sucks blood from the stomach of infected animals leaving them anemic, weak, and at risk of death. Small ruminants pass the eggs of this parasite in their manure, and then other ruminants ingest the hatched larvae allowing adult worms to then grow in the stomach of the second infected animal. This occurs most readily in the warm and wet seasons. There are a few things that can be done to monitor animals for the presence of these parasites, as well as the degree of their presence.

    The FAffa MAlan CHArt or FAMACHA score is used to identify anemia. Tufts Veterinary Field Service staff are trained to FAMACHA score animals and assist clients to find training opportunities for themselves.

    In addition to anemia, it is important for small ruminant owners to recognize other indicators of parasite infestation in their animals. These includes:

    • Diarrhea
    • Swelling under the jaw (Bottle Jaw)
    • Emaciation or failure to grow
    • Lethargy

    Tufts Veterinary Field Service also offers in-house fecal analysis, which allows same day results. Fecal samples can return to the clinic for analysis with the veterinarian who visits the animal, may be dropped off at the clinic by the owner in-person, or may be mailed in via overnight service to the clinic (on ice) with an indication that the package must be opened immediately.

    Tufts Veterinary Field Service’s fecal analysis detects a variety of parasites, and can quantify the load the animal is harboring as well. Results will be delivered to the owner by a phone call from a veterinarian or veterinary technician.  Parasite control programs can be customized based on these results.  Deworming programs may vary greatly, depending on the individual animal’s history and fecal results. At a minimum, we recommend fecal are performed twice a year, in the Spring and Fall.

  • Surgical Procedures
    Tufts Veterinary Field Service can perform surgical & nonsurgical procedures, either at the clinic in Woodstock, CT or at the animal’s home. Surgery in the haul-in facility at the clinic offers safer anesthetic options as well as more advanced monitoring of the patient during the procedure.

    The following surgical procedures are performed routinely by our veterinarians:

    • Castration
    • Cesarean Section
    • Cosmetic Dehorning
    • Embryo Collection/Transfer
    • Laceration Repair
    • Laparoscopic Artificial Insemination
    • Tube Cystostomy (to correct urinary blockage in goats and sheep)

    Nonsurgical Procedures

    • Castration
    • Docking
    • Disbudding
    • Hoof Trimming
    • Horn Trimming
    • Transcervical Artificial Insemination in Goats
    • Wound Care
    • Dystocia
    1. What is the normal temperature for my animal?
      A normal temperature range for a sheep or goat is 102-103.5° F. The normal temperature range for a llama or alpaca is 100-102° F.
    2. What plants are toxic for a small ruminant?
      The common plants in New England that are toxic to goats, sheep, llamas and alpacas are mountain laurels, rhododendrons, azaleas and choke cherries.
    3. Should I feed my goat or sheep grain?
      Male sheep and goats should not consume grain unless being pushed for production and extreme caution is used. Grain provides extra phosphorus to the diet, which can increase the likelihood of urinary stone formation. These stones become a surgical emergency when they become large enough to block the urinary system and prevent urination. Good quality hay and pasture grass are preferable choices for feed.
    4. My small ruminant got into the grain room and ate a lot of grain; should I be concerned?
      Grain overload can be a medical emergency; it can be a fatal problem if treatment is not started as soon as possible. Contact Tufts Veterinary Field Service to determine the level of severity and the most appropriate plan of action.
    5. Why is my small ruminant walking in a circle?
      There are a few significant diseases that cause small ruminants to walk in circles or show signs of incoordination. Some of these can be life threatening, can also infect humans, and require immediate veterinary intervention.
    6. My male small ruminant got in with a female and I don’t want her to become pregnant. What do I do?
      Contact Tufts Veterinary Field Service to speak with a veterinarian about a plan to prevent a pregnancy.
    7. What is the gestation period for a small ruminant?
      Sheep and goats are pregnant for roughly five months, whereas a llama and alpaca will be pregnant for approximately 11 months.
    8. How long after my small ruminant’s water breaks should I be concerned about her delivering?
      If the animal’s labor has not progressed within 30 minutes after her water breaks, the owner should call Tufts Veterinary Field Service for assistance.
    9. How often should a fecal examination be done on small ruminants?
      Gastrointestinal parasites are common in small ruminants. To best understand your animals fecal burden, fecal exams should be performed twice a year at a minimum – in the spring and fall.
    10. How many small ruminants should I have?
      One is the loneliest number. Sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas are gregarious animals – meaning they need company. It is recommended that a farm maintain at least two small ruminants at a time, and many clients find mixing different species of small ruminants in the same pen works well.