What does a herd health plan look like?

A herd health plan is a wonderful tool to help you manage your livestock all year long.

Sheep herd

It does not matter if you have a few 4-H project animals for your 4-H fair or raise animals all year long, having a herd health plan is a very important management tool. These plans can help with establishing production goals, making management decisions and record keeping. Here are some key components to keep in mind when developing a herd health plan.

Download a Herd Health Plan Template

The first part of a plan should contain all the important contact information for an operation. This will include information for the owner, veterinarian, facility manager, producer information and any additional emergency contacts. Producer information may be important for 4-H youth who buy a project animal from a specific breeder. When considering emergency contacts, think about including animal control or anyone who could help when an animal becomes sick, injured, dies or escapes.

The next part of your plan should focus on animal care. Include information regarding animal housing, biosecurity protocols, treatment protocols and any notes of feed types you may use. Housing requirements may change throughout the production year and that information should be included. If your animals are kept at a different location than your primary residence, include directions on how to get to get there.

The third section of your plan will be an operation overview. Write out your mission statement and production goals. When writing production goals, focus on what product you are looking to market to costumers. Are your animals being raised for the market place, breeding stock, wool or milk? Maybe the purpose of your operation is focused on value added products like jerky, yarn or soap. When establishing goals, do so using the SMART method—keep the goal specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.  

The fourth part of a herd health plan should include specific information about the species you are raising. Make sure each herd health plan is specific to only one species. This section will include an inventory of your livestock. Include an overall assessment of the number of animals within your operation. You can also keep a log of each animal as part of your plan. What breeds of animals are in the operation, what breeding type they are (sire, dam, castrated), date of birth and animal identification.  

The fifth section of your herd health plan should include the mechanisms for taking care of your animals. To do this, you can break it down into three main topics: general management, feed and health protocols. For general management topics, think about when to purchase your animals, when they should be weighed, when you should start breeding, birthing and castrating or dehorning. When thinking about feed, think about what types of feed you will need during the winter versus summer, lactation, offspring development and any supplement or mineral needs. For health protocols, include vaccination schedules, bedding requirements, housing needs and treatment protocols for using medications. It is important to note that whenever you are treating any sick animals, it is always a best practice to talk with your veterinarian first.

The last part of your plan can be used for animal health records. In this section, include any changes to feed, when a vaccine or medication was administered and any other general animal health information.

Once developed, a herd health plan can become a wonderful tool to help manage and grow your livestock operation. You can learn more about starting a herd health program and animal care by taking Youth for the Quality Care of Animals (YQCA) training online or find a local in-person training through Michigan State University Extension’s Events Calendar.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

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