Pain management on the farm is becoming more important with an increasing welfare focus from politicians and assurance bodies. Drug developments are allowing for better treatment of livestock, which alleviates conditions and improves performance.

While some animals in distress can often be easily identified others have conditions that require the keen eye of the stockperson to identify behavioural and physiological indicators.

Addressing pain often requires combining various interventions to alleviate discomfort and promote healing. Techniques such as local anaesthesia or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help manage pain associated with procedures like castration or tail docking. Antibiotic therapy is crucial for treating underlying diseases, and addressing the source of inflammation and pain.

Vet Ryan Moore from the Clyde Vet Group said, “We see more and more farmers medicating pain on the farm, and it is making a difference in welfare and production. One of the main areas is dehorning and castrating calves, which makes a difference when pain relief is administered. We see the benefit to the calf in terms of welfare and live weight gain. The calves are down for less time, and the next day you can see them up quickly and going about without hanging lugs.

“There is also a benefit from using it in the treatment of pneumonia or mastitis as quick intervention can make all the difference.

“One point to remember is it is important to choose the right medicine as there are low, medium, and high levels of pain relief and anti-inflammatory available, and I would recommend speaking to your vet to get the right drug at the right time.”

Research shows that pain not only affects animal welfare but also undermines farm productivity and profitability. Diseases or injuries causing pain result in decreased milk yield, growth rates, and overall performance, necessitating prompt intervention and effective management strategies. Preventing pain becomes imperative for maintaining herd health and optimising farm margins.

SRUC vet Tim Geraghty said, “As livestock vets and farmers, we need to do everything we can to prevent painful conditions from occurring in the stock under our care. This not only safeguards welfare but also makes good business sense as animals in pain will always be under-performing.

"Early detection and treatment of animals suffering from painful diseases, like lameness, is critical, but we should also include general pain management plans as part of our health plans. Consider any regular husbandry procedure that might be painful (including assisted calvings) and discuss pain management options with your vet. This will yield both better welfare and stock performance.”