Animal Health & Welfare

It is important for pets, zoo animals and farm animals to stay healthy. Animal scientists study  how animal housing and feed can affect health. Animal scientists also address welfare concerns in animal production.

Animal Science Illustration

How do farmers keep animals healthy?

Everyone gets sick from time to time, and animals are no different. But how do farmers keep animals healthy and when they are sick, make them better?

The most important things a farmer can provide animals are lots of clean water, feed and a healthy environment. These simple, yet crucial, items allow the animals to behave naturally and go through natural processes such as eating, resting, growing and, for some animals, making milk.

There are many different ways that farmers help to prevent sickness and injury on their farms. One way is for farmers to  vaccinate their animals against diseases, very similar to the way humans are vaccinated. Farmers work with veterinarians to develop vaccination programs that outline which vaccinations to give and at what age each is to be given.

Animals need their “toe nails” clipped just like we do. But instead of using a clipper, animals like cattle, horses, pigs, goats and sheep need something a bit different. They get their  hooves trimmed.  It is important that livestock get their feet trimmed because it can prevent lameness. Trimming feet also gives the producer a chance to inspect his animals’ hooves and catch infections. Check out this video of a cow getting her hooves trimmed.

The cow is entering what is called a chute, which holds her comfortably in place while her feet are trimmed. The hoof trimmer lifts the cow so that he can work on her feet. He begins by scrapping her feet free of manure, and then the excess growth is removed with a clipper. The foot is then examined for any indication of infection. The cow is then lowered to the ground and let loose. Cows typically have their hooves trimmed twice a year.

Horse shoes aren’t just for luck. They serve a very important purpose for horses. Horse shoes help to maintain hoof health. Special types of horse shoes have been developed for different types of work, just like an athlete wears special shoes for his or her sport. Check out this video on how to shoe a horse.

Farmers can protect their animals’ feet through grooving the barn floor and installing rubber mats at feed alleys, where animals stand to eat their food. The grooved floors will prevent the animals from falling or slipping. The rubber mats act as a cushion when the animal is eating and causes less wear on feet (Jacobs, 2009).

Deworming is a method of protection that helps to prevent animals, especially those on pasture, from getting parasites. Farmers can give dewormers by mouth, injection or pour them onto the animal’s back.

Some farmers may choose to dehorn their cattle, sheep or goats. Dehorning is a process where the horn bud of the animal is removed. This means that the horn is not able to grow back. Dehorning can protect other animals from being injured and farmers from being harmed.

Tail docking is when part or all of the tail is removed from the animal. This practice most commonly occurs in sheep and pigs. Sheep may have their tails docked because it prevents flies from infesting the hind wool. Sheep may get manure on their hind wool, and it can become matted. Flies may lay their eggs here and the maggots could infest the animal. Pigs have their tails docked because some pigs may bite other pigs’ tails. This is a health concern because open wounds on the pigs could become infected.

Farmers might use a ventilation system and fans to keep air moving through barns, not only to provide fresh air for livestock but to keep them cool. Sprinklers in barns also come in handy when it is very hot and animals need to cool off.

Farms also work with a nutritionist and veterinarian, who come out to the farm to make decisions on how best to care for the animals. A nutritionist is someone who formulates the diets for the animals to ensure proper growth and development. A veterinarian is an animal doctor who checks for illnesses and treats sick animals. Veterinarians also help to set vaccination schedules and administer shots.

When animals do have a health problem, farmers use antibiotics and other medications to treat illnesses. In the U.S., many livestock producers also give their animals low doses of certain antibiotics in their feed to improve overall health and help animals gain weight. This is called "subtherapeutic" use because instead of curing a specific disease, the antibiotics are used to improve overall growth and health. Click here to see FAQs about antibiotic uses in livestock. 

It is important that farmers monitor people coming and going on the farm. Biosecurity is a preventative measure to keep out diseases that may be tracked onto the farm by other animals, people or farm equipment. Farmers may restrict certain people from coming on their farm if they know that person has been in contact with diseased animals. The farmer may also ask that people clean their shoes or vehicle tires before entering the farm area. Proper biosecurity helps the farm keep disease out and away from healthy animals.  

Farmers work hard to take care of their animals and ensure that illness is reduced as much as possible.


Jacobs, E. (2009, April). When building, put cows first. Eastern Dairy Business, 22-23.

Jr Animal Scientist

A Jr. Animal Scientist membership is a great way for kids to learn about science and the animal world.

Through the Jr. Animal Scientist magazine and special online resources, kids can learn about pets, farm animals and zoo animals. Scientific information is tailored for kids ages 5 to 9 (K-3rd grades). Eye-catching photos and exciting animal activities add to the fun! Plus, all Jr. Animal Scientists get special prizes just for joining.

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