Basics of Animal Aid, homesteading, Animal First Aid

Trust your gut when it comes to your animals and their health.  If you’ve been spending quality time with them, you’ll know when something’s wrong.  A little knowledge, a watchful eye, and tender loving care are the keys to keeping them in tip-top shape—just the way nature intended.  Having a good local vet on speed-dial helps, too.  Within this article are several examples of common farmyard ailments and their usual treatments.  Every homesteader should know some basics of animal aid. As with any health problem, human or animal, it is always best to treat the symptoms quickly and seek professional medical attention when home treatments just aren’t doing the job.

Giving Shots to Your Animals

Giving shots to your animals is one of the basics of animal aid that is cheaper and more convenient than hauling them into the vet’s office.  You can buy vaccines in bulk from vet suppliers that specialize in mail-order to farmers.  Buy from your own vet or vet center, where you’re known and will feel free to ask questions; you’ll also probably get more free advice because you’re from the area, and people know you.

When giving to cows, be sure to place their head in a stanchion and tie at least one hind foot as securely as you can.  With calves and goats, get a friend or family member to hold their head and rump.  You’re going to give the shot right in the middle of a bulge of pure muscle; aim for the front shoulder or rear thigh.

Giving Pills to Larger Animals

bolus gun, bolus gun, homesteading animal first aid
You can find a bolus gun at any farm-supply store to make the job go a little more smoothly.

If you have to give a pill—a bolus—to a cow, calf, goat, or horse, get the aid of a friend or family member.  A horse will probably behave just fine, but you may need to place the goat or calf in the stanchion.  Push your fingers all the way to the very back of the animal’s mouth; they’ll help you by opening wider.  Put your other arm around its neck to hold it still and just push the pill down its throat quickly.  Pull your hand out and hold the animal’s mouth shut for a couple of minutes.

A bolus gun is, of course, easier than shoving the pill down your animal’s throat with your bare hands.  Either way, the animal may spit the pill out and you’ll have to start all over again.

Livestock Reproduction

A female horse, a mare, is in heat for two to eleven days and will come into heat about every twenty-two days.  After giving birth to a colt, she’ll be in heat again in three to fifteen days.  A sow will come into heat one to eight weeks after having a litter of piglets, and a ewe comes in heat for about thirty-five hours every sixteen days.

Artificial Insemination

If you don’t want to provide a bull, A.I., or artificial insemination, provides a way to breed your cows.  Once the cow is safely inside a chute, she’s injected with bull semen through a metal tube.  You can actually take a course to learn to do this yourself; ask you local vet about this.  If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, then your vet will surely know of someone in your area who can do it for you.

Helping With a Birth

calf pulling
Sometimes Momma Cow needs a little assistance.

Most of the time, Mother Nature can handle the task of birthing just fine, but sometimes, help is needed.  If you find yourself helping one of your animals give birth, just remember to pull very gently to help prevent any tearing.  Let the animal’s cervix dilate before you start pulling and don’t pull on both legs at once.  Pull on one leg and then the other so that the shoulders and hips can move out one at a time instead of all at once.  The baby will come out much easier this way.


What vaccinations you give will depend on the kind of animal you have and what diseases you have in your area, once again, here’s where a good vet comes in handy.  You can also ask neighbors who raise livestock.  It might be a good idea to give immunity shots to your livestock – it’s better than the risk and consequences of them getting sick.


Horns are a natural part of some animals’ anatomy and are sometimes needed for self-defense.  For these reasons, it doesn’t make sense to remove them.  But if you have goats, for instance, and they’ll be around your children, dehorning them might be an excellent idea.  An animal should be young when they are dehorned so that the horns aren’t too big.  You can use a caustic paste or a burning treatment, either one, to dehorn a baby goat.  If your goat’s horns have already started growing, then they must be nipped.

Cauterization Dehorning

There is a special tool you can buy for this: a bell-shaped dehorner.  You can also use a make-shift iron rod-in this case the base must be equivalent to the size of the horn.  Calves can be dehorned in this way as long as they are no more than 4 months old.

Caustic Dehorning

Caustic is available in sticks and also in a paste.  The sticks are much easier to use.  It’s best to use it on a very young goat before the horn has started to grow out.  After you put it on, don’t let the goat out in the rain as the caustic will run into its eyes and blind it.

Trim your animal’s hooves regularly; this is the best way to keep them from growing so long that the animal can’t walk normally.  It’s also the best way to keep an infection from getting into an overlong hoof that has split open.  Horse’s hooves are pretty easy to trim, just lift it up, trim it and then file it with a rasp.  Cows are stubborn and much harder to deal with. You might try trimming their hooves when they’re lying down, as they’re very loath to pick up their foot while standing on it.  Be sure to trim the hooves of any animal very gently and slowly; if you cut too much off you can cause the animal to be lame.

dehorning, animal first aid, homesteading
For mature cows that were not dehorned when they were young, it is common practice to just cut off the pointed end of the horn. This practice is called horn tipping.

Foot Rot

When a cow’s feet get swollen and she seems to have pain in her legs, it could be, and probably is, foot rot.  This is a bacterial or fungal infection in the soft-tissue between a cloven-hoofed animal’s toes.  The infection can also be in the animal’s hoofhead.  Foot rot is very painful for the animal; it can make them lame, will reduce milk production in a milker and cripple any draft animal.

Digestive Ailments

Your cows, goats, and sheep can suffer from foundering; it’s a form of indigestion and it’s very grave.  Horses can also contract it.  Foundering can give your ruminants either diarrhea or bloat; get the animal to the vet as soon as possible.  If diarrhea lasts too long, a cow’s milk will dry up.  Foundering is caused by the carelessness of us humans; usually a change in their diet that comes too quickly.  So introduce any new kind of food, or increased amounts of food slowly.  Letting animals graze on lush, wet spring pastures can also cause bloat.

Symptoms of foundering include swelling and belching.  Don’t let a bloated animal lie down; keep it moving so it can expel as much gas as possible.   

Hardware Sickness

Cattle magnets, animal first aid, homesteading
Cattle magnets come in a few different style and can likely be purchased at your local farm supply store.

Simply put, this is what happens when your animal, cow, goat, sheep, etc, eats a piece of metal.  They will eat nails and/or bailing wire, or whatever happens to be mixed in with their food; but it happens mostly to cows.  Believe it or not, they can survive eating nails, bolts, and even hinges if you know the secret.  It sounds crazy, but what you have to do is get them to swallow a magnet; the magnet will grab the metal and pull it to the bottom of the cow’s stomach.  It stays there for the rest of the cow’s life, but isn’t lethal.

You might want to take the cow to the vet, but if not, watch for these symptoms:  Your cow stops eating and looks downright miserable.  There won’t be a fever associated with this condition, but the cow will definitely look and act sick.  Your vet has a metal detector he can use and can actually locate where the metal is inside your cow.  If you let this condition go on too long, the cow’s insides will be torn up, so the laxative the vet will give your cow will help a lot.  He’ll then make her swallow the magnet.  Most of the time, your animal won’t need to be operated on, but they should be back to eating within about one week.

Basics of Animal Aid for Diseases and Infections


This is a localized infection that is usually just under the surface of the animal’s skin.  It looks like a giant pimple.  These can be caused by using dirty needles on your animals, so be vigilant when giving them shots.  You should leave an abscess alone until it’s ready to be lanced; you’ll know when it’s time because the hair on top of the abscess will be very easy to pull out.  Lance the abscess with a clean needle and then swab it with iodine.   


Animals can get pinkeye for a number of reasons.  Goats contract it from feed that’s dusty, but they can also get it from good old-fashioned bacteria.  A household cure for pink-eye in goats is to treat the affected eye with diluted lemon juice twice a day until it goes away.  This can take anywhere from one to two weeks.  If you find that this doesn’t work, you might have to inject antibiotics into the eye. You should start treatment of pinkeye quickly as it can lead to blindness, severe emaciation and even death.

Bovine Pinkeye

bovine pinkeye, homesteading animal first aid
Sometimes a home remedy will clear up pinkeye, but if improvement isn’t seen, the vet should be called.

Flies are the main cause of bovine pinkeye.  It starts as soon as the weather gets hot and the flies start buzzing around the cow’s face.  You can help your animal by soaking some rags in a solution that the flies don’t like and hanging these on a rope so the cows can rub it on themselves.  This does provide some measure of relief.

A better solution is to buy a pink-eye resistant breed of cow.  Some good examples are Black Angus, Charolais, and Hereford; short horns aren’t resistant.  During fly season, it’s a good idea to check your animal’s eyes every morning and every evening since pinkeye is a very fast-moving disease.  You’ll know immediately if your animal is developing it; it usually happens in one eye at a time, the eye will look ulcerated and just awful.  Get the animal to the vet pronto.


Pneumonia happens to goats and calves and the symptoms are very similar to those in humans.  Your animal will have a very snotty nose and possibly runny eyes and a fever. They’ll be weak and you’ll know they’re sick when you hear their raspy breathing; they may even have a cough.  Keep them warm and dry and get them to the vet as soon as possible.  If you have a cow that hurts itself and lays down and can’t get up, just wrap it in blankets and offer it food and water frequently.

Red Water

Named for the color your cow’s urine will be if they get this disease; it will be red because there will be blood in the urine. In goats, red water can only be seen with a microscope.  Liver flukes cause this disease, and liver flukes are caused by snails.  Be careful where you let your animals graze; ducks can help control the snails, but the best thing to do is have your animals inoculated against this dreadful ailment.   


Ringworm is a fungus and it can spread from animals to people.  If your cows get it, it can spread to all of them and will take the hair off in roundish looking spots, leaving a kind of whitish, scaly surface.  Some good old-fashioned home remedies include applying lemon juice 3 times a day, or iodine dissolved in glycerin.  Of course, your vet will have some ringworm medicine too; you just paint it on each spot as you find it.  Some old timers used to tie a rag to a stick, dip it in used motor oil and rub it all over the cow’s affected areas.  There’s no telling if this worked or not, but it probably can’t hurt to give it a try.


The Encyclopedia of Country Living; An Old Fashioned Recipe Book, Ninth Edition, by Carla Emery, Sasquatch Books, Seattle

The Merck Veterinary Manual by Merck and Company, 1986

A Veterinary Guide by N. Bruce Haynes, 1978

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.