Health and management documentation are critical for livestock producers 

On a farm the to-do list may seem endless. Whether it is fence to fix, animals to vaccinate or hay to put up – the chores continue to multiply. With so much on a producer’s plate, he or she may not want to add another task. However, one management practice livestock experts recommend producers shouldn’t shrug off is maintaining herd records. 

Thorough and accurate management and health records for any type of livestock operation gives producers tools and information to make informed management decisions. ‘“You can’t manage what you don’t measure!’ is quoted by many people and it is absolutely true,” Earl Ward, NE Area Livestock Specialist with Oklahoma State University Extension, said.

Ward encourages livestock producers to keep as many records as possible. “You may never go back and look at them, but they are there if you ever need to,” Ward added. 

A good place to start is with individual identification. According to Ward, many producers do not have their animals individually identified. Therefore, for any operation the first step is to choose and implement a system to identify all animals. This can be accomplished through a tattoo, branding, ear tags or other methods. 

Once producers have identified their animals, the next step would be to keep track of important records. For each operation the type of data and level of detail will vary. However, livestock specialists recommend a few “must-haves” and “would-be-nice-to-have” in record keeping.

“‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure!’ is quoted by many people and it it absolutely true.”

— Earl Ward,
NE Area Livestock Specialist,
Oklahoma State University Extension

Recording animal birthdays and deaths are important dates to keep. Experts also recommend recording vaccination information including the date given along with the product name and serial number. Some vaccinations may require a follow up booster, having the original shot date will help producers determine when to give the booster. 

Next, note treatment medications by recording the product, serial number and withdrawal date of the medication. “When you are keeping records, you need to record not only the date you gave that shot, but what shot you gave,” Chelsey Kimbrough, Ph.D., livestock specialist with the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, said. “So, you can always go back and read the label to check your withdrawal times and things of that nature.”

Other important health information to record focuses on reproductive data. This could include but not be limited to the number of cows exposed, the number of confirmed bred, the number calved and the number of weaned calves.

During breeding season document when the buck, ram or bull is turned out with females. When kids, lambs or calves start hitting the ground, if producers have the sire exposure information, then producers can determine bred dates. If the animal is later kidding, lambing or calving, then producers know the female missed a cycle or cycles.

The same holds true of cattle operations that utilize AI and then turn in a herd bull. If livestock producers know the AI date and cleanup bull exposure time frame, then depending on when the female calves, producers can determine if the calf is from AI or natural cover. 

Another health aspect worth documenting is hoof trimming. If an animal on the farm continually requires its hooves trimmed, then producers may want to consider culling that animal. 

Additionally, it is particularly important to keep up with deworming records in small ruminants due to the parasite resistance in sheep and goats. “If you are constantly deworming a specific animal, it is time to get rid of that animal,” Kimbrough advised.


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