Caring for young animals (Part 1)

Taruvinga Magwiroto

One of the highlights of my college years was winning a joint award for caring for orphaned rabbit bunnies to adulthood. Why the award? Because if a rabbit dies within a week of giving birth, the odds of losing the whole batch of bunnies are very high! In fact, the Principal had challenged that we could not save even one of the young rabbits to adulthood! We saved two actually, hence the award!

So I will talk about why young animals are sensitive, and what should be done to ensure maximum survival rates.

Immature immune system:-the immune system of the young is not yet fully developed. As such young animals are more susceptible to infectious diseases than older animals of the same species. In view of that, the following management principles need to be considered.

  • As a matter of principle, do not mix young animals with mature ones (except their mother of course). In broiler production, that is the reason for the “all in, all out principle”.
  • increase their passive immunity by vaccinating the mothers against specific diseases in pregnancy. This allows the mother to develop antibodies which are passed on to the young one in the womb or during suckling colostrum.
  • Boost the young animal’s immunity by giving extra vitamins, energy and minerals and antibiotic. e.g when orphaned or transported or stressed in any way.

Immature temperature regulation system:-Generally, the temperature-regulation system of young animals is not fully developed. Most young animals are born with little fur or feather cover. This makes them susceptible to chilling. In windy or rainy weather, young animals born out at pasture die out of exposure to the elements. Lambs and piglets are particularly at risk. Management principles to consider:

  • House in warm, dry pen with plenty of clean bedding
  • Add artificial heat. It is common practice with piglets and chicks to use artificial heat sources in their houses.
  • Ensure colostrum intake in the first 3-6 hours of life. Colostrum is not only rich in antibodies, but it also a source of energy and fat.

Young animals are born with little fat cover:-Piglets and lambs are particularly at risk. They have a large surface area from which potentially they can lose heat, especially in wet and windy conditions. Hence:

  • Need for colostrum
  • Need for shelter.

Obviously, in the case of orphaned animals, certain management steps can be taken to ensure that the young ones have a chance of survival.

  1. Fostering. In rabbits, sheep and goats, fostering is possible and a range of techniques are available to trick a suckling mother to adopt another mother’s young ones. We will discuss this separately in another entry.
  2. Artificial colostrum:- many “recipes” are available, but the principle usually is a mix of water; milk/milk replacer; egg; antibiotic (penicillin); sugar. The concortion is warmed up to body level and drenched orally.
  3. Tender loving care:- common sense attention to the animals. Regular visit to ensure all is OK, protection from wind, cold drafts etc.

This is a broad treatment of the topic, but I hope you understood the principles. Applying them in specific situations is easier when you grasp why you are doing what you are doing!

Happy farming and give us some feedback!

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