June 2017
For What It's Worth

Know Your Small Ruminant First Aid

Goat and sheep producers need to know some basic vital statistics and what supplies to keep stocked for administering first aid to their animals in an emergency. This will enable them to be more confident with their decision-making process when it comes to treating sick or injured animals, and providing details to a veterinarian should the situation arise.

Life expectancy for goats and sheep could average eight years. They may live longer, with prime productivity ranging from three to six years. There are always exceptions to the rules.


These are a few items that would serve in a first-aid kit.

Vital statistics are:




Yes, the vitals for goats and sheep are almost identical and knowing this should eliminate confusion.

Some first-aid supplies to keep stocked include a supply container; a sharpie box (for used needles); 3, 6 and 12 cc syringes; 18- and 20-gauge needles, both ½- to ¾-inch long; several size drench syringes; iodine or navel spray; wound spray; lamb or Pritchard nipples; and empty soft-drink bottles (4-6 ounce and 12-16 ounce). The latter two are in case you need to bottle feed the newborn or young. You might also want to purchase some goat colostrum from a dairy goat producer and keep stored in the freezer no more than two years.

Other healthcare supplies to keep on hand include a weak kid feeding syringe, elastic wrap or gauze, thermometer, blood-stop powder (cornstarch is an option), propylene glycol, hydrating powder and latex or nitrile gloves.

Keep some old towels and newspaper on hand, just in case. And keep dental floss around for tying off navel cords of newborns. Scissors are essential.

When it comes to injections, there is subcutaneous (under the skin) and intramuscular (into muscle tissue). When it comes to administering most injectable medicines, they will be done subcutaneously. Read the label or consult with a veterinarian when in doubt. Having a working relationship with a veterinarian is a very good idea. Paying for a few farm visits will go a long way to getting over-the-phone advice when needed.

Injured or sick animals are already stressed; keep them in a quiet, low-light situation and confined away from other animals. Make sure the animal has access to shade, protection from elements, water, hay and a small amount of grain. When approaching a sick or injured animal, use a calm voice, move slowly and avoid sudden movements. Assess the situation, take notes, have help if needed and be prepared to treat as deemed appropriate. Whether the animal is sick or injured, isolation is important to the animal and to protect other animals from contagious diseases.

Sheep are more tolerant of pain than goats, but, if either are grinding their teeth, they are in pain. Many of the medicines safe for humans such as Bismuth sulfate, aspirin, etc. are safe for small ruminants.

When an animal has been injured or sick, recovery may be slow and the animal will likely require close supervision. Otherwise, a relapse may occur and the animal’s vigor will quickly diminish. Keep sick animals in isolation for at least 30 days. Depending on the severity of the injury, an animal may need to be kept isolated for a few days to a few weeks. Be prepared to re-administer health care should the animal have a relapse. While death is an unpleasant issue, do not allow the animal to suffer.

There is no easy button for administering first aid when it comes to health care for small ruminants. Knowing vitals and having a variety of supplies will minimize stress on animals and owners.


Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..