Species notes

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

​​​​This information provides teachers and students with basic guidance about the care and handling of identified animal species.

It is assumed that teachers have some experience and understanding of the animals they plan to use and where necessary will seek further information as these notes are not designed to be used in isolation.

VSAEC expects all teachers using animals in their teaching to have a thorough knowledge of the husbandry and facilities required for the species in their care.

Amphibians and reptiles

The successful keeping of amphibians and reptiles in captivity requires:

  • a sound knowledge of the species’ specific needs
  • an environment that replicates the features of the animals’ natural environment
  • experienced carers that are aware of the signs of health and disease in the species being kept

Licensing and acquisition

No species of reptiles or amphibians (except axolotls) are exempt from licensing requirements in Victoria. Licences are issued by the Department of Sustainability and Environment and information regarding licensing requirements can be obtained from DSE or reptile and amphibian dealers.

General biology

  • There are approximately 6,000 species of reptiles and 4,000 species of amphibians.
  • Reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded animals (ectotherms). Their body temperature is determined by the environmental temperature.
  • Reptiles and amphibians come from a wide range of environments and are found in almost every habitat on the earth: for example, they can be aquatic, tree dwelling, burrowers or desert dwellers.
  • Many reptiles and amphibians are relatively long-lived, surviving for 10 to 20 years or even more. This must be taken into consideration when committing to them as pets.

Environment

When choosing housing for reptiles and amphibians, consideration needs to be given to the specific requirements of the chosen species. In some cases, simple aquariums may be used.

The size of housing required varies with the species, the expected size at maturity and the degree of activity and territoriality displayed.

Being cold blooded, reptiles and amphibians regulate their body temperature by selecting the appropriate temperature environment. In the wild they increase their body temperature by basking in the sun or lying on heated surfaces such as rocks or paving, while to cool their bodies they may burrow, hide under vegetation or enter water.

It is important therefore that cages have both hot and cool areas. To avoid causing burns, there should be a barrier between the heat source and the animal. Water must always be provided.

Lighting should be appropriate for the species and relate to their natural environment. A definite daylight cycle must be provided and varied manually or automatically to simulate the passage of the seasons. For basking animals, ultraviolet light is very important in inducing induce vitamin D3 production for healthy bone growth. Full-spectrum globes should be used to provide light. For nocturnal animals, red, blue or black lights may be used so they can be viewed without disturbing them.

Reptiles and amphibians need well-ventilated, draught- and fume-free environments. Their humidity and bedding material requirements vary between species. Climbing species require branches and logs on which to climb and bask, while rock-dwelling species need rock surfaces. Refuges must be provided to allow them to hide. Without them, animals can become stressed.

Animals should be checked daily. Cages should be cleaned regularly and the fittings cleaned or exchanged. Cages should be secure and if animals that may bite are being housed, cages should be locked.

Food and water

Reptiles and amphibians vary in their food requirements. It is important that before acquiring an animal, its food requirements and the availability of this food are assessed. In the wild, these animals often have a varied diet. If it is not possible to provide this variety, nutritional supplementation may be required.

Fresh, cool water must be provided at all times for bathing and consumption.

Handling

Regular and gentle handling of non-venomous reptiles can make them docile and more accepting of handling procedures. Handling should, however, be kept to a minimum. Amphibians should be handled as little as possible, to reduce the risk of damage to their delicate skins.

Good hygiene after handling and cage cleaning is essential to reduce the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases.

Disease prevention

To decrease the incidence of disease, it is vital that the housing, nutritional and environmental requirements of each species are known. All new animals should be kept quarantined until they are proved to be disease and parasite free.

Signs of illness

It is not easy to recognise the early signs of ill-health in reptiles and amphibians, but possible indications include:

  • changes in normal behaviour patterns
  • constipation
  • decreased appetite and/or activity
  • vomiting
  • weight loss
  • sores, swellings or changes in skin colour
  • changes in breathing
  • external parasites
  • difficulty in moving, lameness

If an animal shows signs of ill health or distress, immediate advice should be sought from veterinarians experienced in reptiles and amphibians. Illnesses, injuries and the treatment given should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of a reptile or amphibian becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for reptiles and amphibians. A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate planning

A fate plan should be considered before using a reptile or amphibian in any program. Animals that are no longer required must be re-homed.

Pet reptiles and amphibians must not be released into the wild.

More information

Text
Weigel, J. (1988), Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity, Gosford, NSW: Reptile Keepers Association

Caged birds

Varietal range difference

These guidelines apply to birds commonly kept as caged pets, such as budgerigars, canaries and finches.

Accommodation

Accommodation should be designed to suit the birds’ physical characteristics and natural behaviours and provide:

  • space enough for birds to fly, roost and avoid other caged birds
  • shelter from draught, direct sunlight through windows and the capacity to control temperature, ventilation and lighting
  • protection from menace or intimidation by predators
  • feed and water to supply essential nutrient
  • protection from disease
  • facilities for regular surveillance to detect problems

For further information, see Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Code of practice for the housing of caged birds.

Normal behaviour

Caged birds are normally alert with an erect carriage. They should be able to fly freely and the cutting of feathers or pinioning of wings, unless advised by veterinarians for therapeutic reasons, must not be undertaken.

Birds that are kept in captivity generally live in flocks in the wild, so the company of at least one other bird should be provided for companionship.

Environment

Ideally, most birds should be housed in large, well-designed and well-built outdoor aviaries. Some, however, are kept in indoor cages. The type of bird chosen will tend to dictate the type of housing required. All birds should have adequate room to move and express normal behaviours.

In general:

  • all cages must be kept sufficiently clean as to provide an environment that is conducive to the birds' good health. In small cages, removable trays may assist cleaning
  • cages should be constructed of strong, impervious materials that can be washed and sterilised thoroughly
  • cages should provide protection from predators and extreme weather, and be draught-free
  • there should be means for birds to avoid others in the cage
  • a number of feed and water stations should be provided that is adequate to meet the requirements of all birds and allows every bird free access to them
  • there should be a variety of perches of different diameters, with enough space for all caged birds to perch comfortably. Ideally, perches should be natural, bark-covered branches. Perches should not impede lines of flight or be placed directly above other perches or food and water containers. They should be cleaned or (preferably) replaced regularly
  • hanging decorations, toys and vegetation should not clutter cages or impede lines of flight
  • a choice of nesting and roosting sites and suitable nesting materials should be provided for all birds
  • suitable floor drainage should be provided to prevent persistently moist or wet cages
  • cages should be constructed to inhibit the entry of pests
  • cages should provide at least two doors between the caged birds and the outside
  • floors should be kept in a clean and sanitary condition. If they are covered with absorbent litter such as sand, the material should be removed completely at least twice a year
  • cages should not be stacked together so as to impair ventilation
  • cage interiors should be free of sharp edges and dangerous objects
  • shallow bowls should be provided to give birds the opportunity to bathe, particularly on warm days

(Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Code of practice for the housing of caged birds)

In the design of birdcages, the ratio between the length and width, at right angles to each other, should not exceed 4:1, unless the shorter of these two lines is at least 900mm long. The shorter distance should be at least twice the span of the wings of the largest bird to be kept in the cage.

When housing mixed species, the minimum cage size should relate to the requirements of the largest birds.

For other indoor and outdoor cage dimensions, refer to Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, National Guidelines for the Housing of Caged Birds.

Food and water

Adequate food suitable for the needs of the particular species of birds being housed should be available at all times. Containers used to supply feed should not be constructed or used in a manner that may cause injury to the birds. They should be situated where the food is least likely to be spoiled or contaminated by faeces.

A varied diet should be supplied, alternating regularly between fresh fruit, vegetables and seeding grasses, as appropriate to the species being fed. Mixed grit and a source of calcium should be available.

Clean, cool water must be available at all times. Water containers should not be located in direct sunlight or placed in positions where they are likely to become contaminated by faeces. Containers should be kept clean and free of foreign matter, by regular washing with a low-toxicity disinfectant and rinsing with clean water.

Handling

Birds should be conditioned to accept handling. They need to be handled calmly and with care. Training birds to accept transfer between cages on a daily basis ensures that they can be handled easily, provides a level of environmental enrichment and may reduce the incidence of territorial behaviour.

Because of the time involved in training parrots, it is unlikely that this activity would be carried out in schools. However, teachers or lecturers may use trained birds to demonstrate the principles involved. Parrots can be tamed and trained to perform a large number of tricks and activities, including speech. The birds should be rewarded for desirable behaviours, generally with food, but normal feeding must not be withheld or overlooked. Punishment, especially physical forms, should not be used as a deterrent for undesirable actions. Reward the bird’s spontaneous actions that approximate desired behaviour. Repetition is the key to success and it may take years to perfect the performance of a single desired action on command.

Disease prevention

Disease control methods, and internal and external parasite control programs, should be developed in consultation with veterinarians. All action should be documented in the appropriate records.

Signs of illness

Birds' health should be monitored at least daily and preferably more often. The first sign of ill-health may be noticed as a change in their natural demeanour, which may be listless or lethargic. Birds may show changes in:

  • the appearance of droppings
  • food or water consumption
  • attitude or behaviour
  • appearance or posture
  • body weight
  • rate or depth of respiration

Birds may show evidence of:

  • enlargements or swelling
  • vomiting, injury or bleeding
  • discharge from nostrils, eyes or beak

Birds with any of these symptoms should be isolated immediately and their cages disinfected fully. A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness.

If a bird shows signs of ill-health or distress immediate veterinary advice should be sought. Illnesses and injuries and the treatment given should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of a bird becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for birds.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate planning

A fate plan should be considered before using a bird in any program. Birds that are no longer required must be re-homed. They must not be released into the environment.

More information

  • Department of Environment and Primary Industries
  • University of Sydney (Faculty of Veterinary Science)
  • Code of practice for the housing of caged birds, Bureau of Animal Welfare (2001), Attwood, Victoria
  • What Bird is That? Revised field edition, Cayley, Neville W. (1991), Angus and Robertson, NSW: North Ryde
  • The Finch Handbook, Koepff, C. and Romagnano, A. (2001), Barron’s Pet Handbooks, New York
  • Everybird: A Guide to Bird Health, MacWhirter, P. (ed.) (1987), Inkata, Melbourne
  • The Canary Handbook, Vriends, M. and Heming-Vriends, T. (2001), Barron’s Pet Handbooks, New York

Kindly sourced from the SAEC – Schools Animal Ethics Committee of Western Australia

Cattle

Bos Taurus, Bos indicus

Varietal range

Although many different and distinct breeds exist, cattle are usually divided into two groups:

  • Dairy cattle, used for milk production, eg: Holstein, Jersey and Illawara Shorthorn
  • Beef cattle, used for meat production, eg: Hereford, Angus and Murray Grey

Cattle may also be divided into Bos indicus (tropical cattle breeds) and Bos taurus varieties (temperate cattle breeds).

Physical characteristics

Size: varies greatly between breeds – mature height up to 1500mm at the shoulder, or taller for some large breeds
Weight: varies greatly with breed and stage of growth – from 400kg to 800kg
Age at adult size: varies between breeds – between 2 and 4 years
Weight at birth: small breeds 15kg – 20kg, large breeds 35kg – 40+kg
Gestation period: average 282 days, range 275-290 days
Number of offspring: normally one per gestation, up to one gestation per year
Weaning age: 6-8 months
Range of breeding ages: mating begins from 15-24 months, reproductive life 8-10 years
Body temperature: 38.6C, range 37C – 39C
Heart rate: 40 – 80 beats/minute
Respiration rate: 20 – 40 breaths/minute

Environment

Cattle may be kept in extensive situations in paddocks or in more intensive situations, such as feedlots. A feedlot is a confined yard area with watering and feeding facilities where cattle are held and completely hand or mechanically fed for the purpose of production. Feelot cattle are fed a defined ration for an extended period of time, generally without access to pasture or grazing crop. They perform well in open pastures; plenty of clean fresh water must be made available, as well as shelter from the wind, rain and sun. The minimum space required in extensive situations is one hectare per head, assuming pasture is balanced and well maintained.

Cattle kept in intensive situations should be exercised daily. Heat stress can be a concern. In stalls, adequate ventilation must be provided; in feedlots, access to adequate shade, such as good tree cover and/or artificial shelter, is necessary. At least 2.8m2/head of shade should be provided. Insufficient shade/shelter may cause cattle to crowd together under the shade and restrict heat loss. Stocking densities should not exceed those specified in the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Cattle (i.e. 9 metres squared per head for feedlot animals or 2.5 metres squared per head for shedded cattle). If cattle are kept indoors, the area should be well lit. Allow free air movement in stalls, without creating draughts. Suitable materials for stalls include straw, sand and sawdust. Flooring material and maintenance is very important: floors should be non-slip (not concrete), provide for adequate drainage and should be of a material that dries quickly after rainfall. Stalls should be kept clean and tidy.

Feedlot operations must comply with conditions specified in:

  • Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Cattle, 2nd Edition, 2004, PISC Report 85, CSIRO
  • Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Land Transport of Cattle, 2002, SCARM Report 77, CSIRO
  • National Guidelines for Beef Cattle Feedlots in Australia, 3rd Edition, SCARM

Food and water

Cattle are highly efficient in terms of digestion, and good-quality pasture comprises a balance of grasses and legumes. However, care must be taken when cattle are put on pastures with high legume content, as bloat can occur.

When hand-feeding cattle, the rule is to introduce new food types slowly and carefully. Do not feed excessive quantities of grains, feed plenty of high quality roughage and feed small amounts at frequent intervals. As a herd of cattle will have a well developed dominance hierarchy, trough dimensions should allow for all age groups to access feed with the minimum of competition.

Monitoring of live weight and condition scoring will indicate the adequacy or otherwise of the feed conditions.

Young calves are suckled or a milk replacement is used. For older cattle, grazing is the most economical means of feeding. Supplementary feeding with hay and concentrate mixes may be necessary. If the cattle are always grazed, veterinarians or the DEPI should be consulted to determine if there is a need for specific supplementation. Pasture and soil deficiencies will vary depending on the geographic location and climatic variations.

Food quantities vary with animals' weight, stages of growth and stages of production. As a guide, an average 450kg cows require one hectare of good-quality pasture. To hand feed the same cow requires approximately 10kg of concentrates, plus hay, each day.

For hand feeding, provide food twice daily for young calves and daily for other cattle. Food should be of high quality, fresh and provide complete nutrition for the stage of growth.

Newborn calves must get colostrum in the first 24 hours. This will be provided in the first milk of the cow if naturally mothered, but must be provided by the caregiver in handraised calves. Colostrum is available as a commercial preparation if required.

Fresh, clean, readily-accessible water supplies must also be provided.

As a guide to water requirements, a small cow requires 30L – 50L per day and more if she is lactating.

For cattle kept in intensive systems, feed bins should be off the ground and automatic waterers, which supply clean, fresh water at all times, installed and checked daily.

Handling

Cattle need to be handled calmly and with care to prevent distress and injury to the animals and the handlers. Training or habituating cattle to management procedures such as mustering and drafting is best commenced at time of weaning, and should be made as positive experience as possible to minimise aversive behaviour.

A good knowledge of the instinctive behaviour of cattle and an understanding of the way cattle respond to forced movement is essential to apply the techniques of 'natural stockmanship'.

Each animal (and each herd) will have a 'flight zone' which, when penetrated, causes the animal (or the herd as a collective) to move away. The size of this zone will depend on variables including the animal's breed, age and degree of prior handling. A good stock handler will learn when to penetrate this zone and when to retreat, so that cattle will move quietly in the desired direction with the minimum of stress.

The handler should also be aware that their position relative to the animal's shoulder will determine the direction of movement of that animal: this is referred to as their 'point of balance'. If the stockperson goes behind a line drawn through this point, the animal will move forward, if they go in front of it, the animal will back away.

If standing in front of the animal, the handler can deflect cattle movement by moving to either side of an imaginary line drawn through the length of the animal.

A set of solid yards, preferably including a race and crush or headbail, is necessary for adequate handling. Design of these facilities should allow for the natural (instinctive) behaviour of cattle to occur and preferably to aid in movement of animals through yards.

Cattle prods not be used. Cattle that are kept in schools should not require handling in this manner. Handling aids including drafting sticks and canes should be used only to extend the distance of control by the handler (by extending the length of the handler's arm) and not to physically harm the animal.

Normal behaviour

Cattle in the school or college situation should be docile, spending most of their time grazing or chewing the cud. They are social and will herd if kept in numbers, and will develop a well organised dominance hierarchy that is seen most obviously when they are moved and when hand feeding occurs. Each time a group of cattle is mixed, the hierarchy will have to be re-established and this should be kept in mind when mustering and managing the herd.

Cattle have panoramic vision of 330 degrees and binocular vision of 25-50 degrees, which facilitates predator awareness and must be considered when handling animals. When threatened, their first response will be to remain immobile, if frightened they will attempt to escape.

Cattle that show difficult temperaments should be removed from the herd and not used in the school situation. Particular care should be taken when handling bulls and cows with young calves as they tend to have a high level of arousal and may be unpredictable.

Movement

There are a number of restrictions relating to the movement of cattle. To ensure that the appropriate legislation is followed, contact the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Disease prevention

Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with veterinarians or the Department of Environment and Primary Industries. All activities should be documented in the appropriate records.

Signs of illness

The health of stock should be monitored at least daily and preferably more often. The first sign of ill-health noticed is often a change in the animals' natural demeanour. They may be listless or lethargic.

Closer examination may show variations in:

  • Body temperature
  • Gastrointestinal function, such as diarrhoea, weight loss, or loss of appetite
  • Urogenital function eg: abortion, infertility, or abdominal discharges
  • Respiratory function, eg: such as persistent coughing, gasping or panting

or evidence of:

  • Skin conditions, such as lesions or abnormal growths
  • A tucked-up appearance, stiff gait, abnormal posture, patchy coat or loss of hair
  • Excessive scratching or rubbing
  • Swollen joints or lameness
  • Bellowing

A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness.

Common ailments include mastitis, bloat, internal parasites or milk fever.

If the cause of ill-health cannot be identified and corrected, assistance should be sought from veterinarians who are familiar with cattle. Illness or injuries, and treatments given, should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of cattle that become so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for cattle.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate planning

A fate plan should be considered before using cattle in any programs. Cattle can be sold privately, at auction or consigned to abattoirs. Carcasses must be disposed of in accordance with local council regulations. Herd animals should not be sold individually unless they are joining an existing herd.

More information

Domestic fowls

Gallus sp

Varietal range difference

Both layers and broilers are available in a range of breeds.

Physical characteristics

Size: height of Bantam hen, approximately 150mm; large fowl, approximately 700mm
Weight: Bantam hen, approximately 500g; large male fowl, approximately 6kg
Weight at birth: 20g - 40g
Incubation period: 19 - 21 days
Range of breeding ages: 6 months to 7 years, depending on breed. Some birds may continue to lay longer than 7 years
Body temperature: 39.5C (+/- 0.5C)
Heart rate: 150 - 400 beats/minute
Respiration rate: 12 - 36 breaths/minute

Environment

It is no longer appropriate to keep layers in cages as a routine procedure.

All Victorian schools must apply to VSAEC for permission to house layers intensively. They must comply with the Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Poultry and the Code of practice for the land transport of poultry.

Grassed runs should provide a minimum of 7.5m2 per bird, although more space is desirable.

In minimum confines, the chicken must be able to turn around without losing its normal stance, have room to flap its wings and be able to walk and forage. Food and water should be easily accessible.

For layers, the preferred temperature range is 20C - 28C. Temperatures below l0C and above 32C cause stress. Newly-hatched birds are very sensitive to temperature. Day-old chicks require an environment at 33C, which should be reduced by 3C every week until it reaches 21C at 28 days of age. All young birds are unable to maintain their body temperatures and therefore need to be supplied with an artificial heat source up until four weeks of age. Supplementary heat may be required between four and six weeks of age. The chicks themselves are useful indicators of temperature: if it is too hot, they disperse and if it is too cold they huddle together.

Shedded birds must have a reasonable amount of light, with cycles of light and darkness. If they are kept in the light all the time, they may panic and smother themselves in the event of a blackout.

Avoid draughts and chilling winds. Also, ammonia build-up in intensive situations must be prevented: it causes distress to poultry as well as to humans. This can be done by reducing the number of birds and improving ventilation.

Shelter provided for birds should be sufficient to protect them from climatic extremes – temperature, wind, rain and direct sunlight. Outside pens must be covered and secured to protect the birds from predators. Bedding should be composed of clean dry litter of rice hulls, shavings from untreated timber, straw or sand. Little cleaning should be required, if the litter is kept deep and dry.

Nesting materials must be clean, dry, friable and absorb moisture: for example, clean dry sand, straw or wood shavings. Nesting boxes can be used. If available, plastic drums of approximately 15L- 25L capacity, with the bases cut out, leaving small lips to hold back nesting materials, should be available at the ratio of one nesting box for every three or four birds. The nest should be reasonably dark and sufficient to isolate one bird from another to avoid egg damage and aggressive behaviour by some birds during nesting. It is important to ensure that there is adequate perch space to accommodate all the birds at once. Each bird should be provided with at least 150 mm of perch space.

Food and water

Suitable food includes pellets, crumbles, mash, grain, small amount of green feed and grit. Commercially prepared food is recommended, as it meets of the birds' nutritional needs.

Adult fowls require 120g - 160g of pellets per day. These requirements vary with the quality of diet, breed and physiological status of each bird and environmental conditions. Check with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries for the correct diet.

Demand feeding should be practised, preferably at least twice a day, in the morning and evening.

A clean, adequate supply of water, placed in a cool shaded area, is required. If automatic nipple drinkers are used, they should always be fitted with fail-safe mechanisms. Consumption ranges from a few millilitres for chickens to 500mL per day in summer for adult birds.

Handling

Chickens must be handled calmly and with care to prevent distress and injury to them.

Chickens should be captured and handled only when necessary and be accustomed to handling from a young age. Avoid chasing birds as this agitates them and causes them to pile up in corners. If a catching hook is used, a bird should be drawn towards the handler firmly but not so quickly as to damage shank, leg or joints. Firmly and quietly transfer the bird to the holding position.

The holding position involves restraining one hock joint between the index finger and thumb, and the other hock joint between the third and fourth fingers. The bird's breast, or keel bone, sits comfortably on the palm of the hand with the bird's head pointing towards the handler's body and the vent away.

When walking with a bird, its head can be tucked under the carrier's upper arm. The non-holding arm can be used to assist with restraining the bird and prevent the wings from flapping.

Normal behaviour

Housing and husbandry practices must allow chickens to express their normal behaviours. These include:

  • foraging behaviour: chickens need to forage for food by scratching and pecking as they investigate their surroundings. If they are not allowed to forage, they peck, pull and tear at objects and other chickens, often developing feather-pecking behaviour
  • locomotive behaviour: hens will walk 1km - 1.5km per day, if space permits. They will also fly to elevated perches if provided with the opportunity
  • resting behaviour: chickens prefer to roost on higher rather than lower perches. They may rest by standing, lying, sleeping or dozing
  • preening, stretching, flapping, dustbathing, sunbathing and body shaking are all comfort behaviours. They also help to keep the birds' feathers in good shape
  • social behaviour: chickens develop fairly stable groups, with birds holding various ranks within these groups
  • nesting and laying behaviour: chickens need adequate nesting sites or they become stressed and develop abnormal behaviours
  • enriched environments reduce fear and stress in chickens
  • As chickens are flock animals, a minimum of two should be kept at a time

A healthy domestic chicken's normal behaviour is characterised by alertness, with an erect carriage.

Avian influenza

This information is taken from the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries. Always refer to that website for the latest information on this and other animal topics.

'Avian influenza' (also known as 'bird flu') is a highly contagious viral infection found primarily in avian species. Many waterfowl species can carry the disease without showing symptoms, while domestic fowls, such as chickens and turkeys, can rapidly develop a fatal condition.

Under Victorian legislation, avian influenza is a notifiable disease and must be reported to the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries:

Disease prevention

Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with veterinarians or the Department of Primary Industries. All activities must be documented in the appropriate records.

Signs of illness

Birds' health should be monitored at least daily and preferably more often. The first sign of ill health may be noticed as a change in the chickens' natural demeanour. They may be listless or lethargic. On closer examination, signs of illness can include:

  • diarrhoea
  • nasal discharge
  • sneezing
  • nervous signs or paralysis
  • inactivity: head under wing, feathers ruffled, isolated from group
  • pale or purple comb
  • frequent shutting of eyes
  • little response when touched or pushed, or often pecked at by another fowl

A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness.

If you are unable to identify and correct the cause of ill-health, assistance should be sought from veterinarians who are familiar with chickens. Illnesses, injuries, and treatments given should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of a bird becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for fowls.

Carcases must be disposed of in accordance with local council regulations.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate planning

A fate plan should be considered before using chickens in any programs. As social, flock animals, chickens must not be re-homed in isolation, a minimum of two should be housed together.

Chickens can be sold privately, at auction or consigned to registered processors.

Chickens must not be released into the wild.

More infomration

Fish

In Australia, the common names for particular fish species vary among the states or even among between different parts of the same state. For this reason, it is advisable to use scientific names.

Keys and descriptions of species can be obtained from scientific publications. There is ample material about Australian marine and freshwater fish available and the fish department of the Australian Museum can be contacted for more information about identification.

As there are many varieties of fish, the information published here is confined to general terms only.

Numerous species, both native and exotic, are available commercially. It is very easy to keep fish in an aquarium in the classroom. As an educational tool, aquaria can be used to study the habitats of fish and their reproductive and other behaviour. With a small breeding tank, for example, students can watch the spawning, hatching and development of fish.

In a school environment, it is much easier to keep and maintain freshwater tanks than saltwater tanks. Where different species are kept in a common environment, consideration must be given to compatibility.

It is also important to note that, as some fish grow, they may bully smaller individuals, even of the same species. When choosing which fish to use, your capacity to maintain and care for the fish should also be considered. Thought must be given to their care during school holidays and arrangements must be made for appropriate maintenance of the aquarium during these periods.

Varietal range difference

There are some 25,000 species of fish, divided into three groups: jawless, cartilaginous and bony. Many of these are suitable for school aquaria.

Physical Characteristics

Size: the size of a fish will be determined by factors such as its species, the size of the aquarium, the number of other fish in the aquarium and availability of food
Weight: in an aquarium, 2g - 250g
Average life span: varies with species
Range of breeding ages: adulthood varies with the species, spawning continues from adulthood to death
Temperature: fish are poikilothermic (cold blooded), so their body temperatures are determined by their environments. Consult reference material for the physical attributes of specific species.

Environment

The least complicated environment is a natural pond in the school grounds. If this is not possible, an aquarium in the classroom is relatively simple to maintain. The tank needs to be kept at room temperature and should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as the sunlight will overheat the water and cause a rapid growth of algae. It should include plants and invertebrates, and be allowed to stabilise for one to two weeks before the fish are added.

Filtration and aeration can be added to facilitate fish survival but each addition of physical support to the tank increases the probability of the system breaking down. It also adds to the amount of monitoring required.

If tropical fish are to be kept, a heating and temperature control system must be used.

With a saltwater tank, the system becomes even more complex and is not recommended unless you have prior experience and success in another context such as at home.

The following are general rules for preparing freshwater aquaria suitable for tropical and temperate fish species, including Australian native fish.

Aquariums should try to replicate the natural environment of the fish they contain.

For the first filling, tap water must be left to age in the tank for 24 hours before introducing plants or fish. Important factors to be monitored are the water pH, dissolved oxygen and hardness. The recommended levels for temperatures of 20C - 25C are pH 6.5 - 8, oxygen level not less than 5ppm and total hardness about 100ppm. Washed river gravel is ideal as bedding. The bottom of the tank should be covered to an average of 75mm.

Filtration has a very significant effect on water quality and fish health. The three types of filtration are mechanical, biological and chemical, of which mechanical is the most popular and easiest to use.

Water should be changed about at least monthly and preferably weekly. It is important not to replace all the water at once: about a quarter by volume is sufficient. A major cleaning should be undertaken once every three-four months, when the fish are removed, placed in a container with 25 per cent of the original tank water and covered. The walls of the tank must be cleaned carefully, with all chemical residues from the cleaning being rinsed away. Wash sand or gravel thoroughly to remove any accumulated debris. The tank should be two-thirds filled with tap water and allowed to stand for at least half a day before the remaining sand or gravel, water and fish are returned to the tank.

Requirements for breeding tanks vary with each species. Separate tanks may be required.

The size of aquariums depends on the size of the fish. The formula for determining the maximum carrying capacity provides for around 15mm of length of a fish per 4.5L of water. More space is required if the tank is not ventilated. One or two small air stones, connected to an aerator, must be used for a 35L - 70L tank. More should be used for bigger tanks. The water surface should be monitored for the presence of oily scum, as this will interfere with gas exchange.

In the school context, the use of suitable covers is essential for all aquaria. They prevent fish from jumping out and dust and toxins (such as insect sprays) from entering the tank. A glass or other solid cover should only be used if the tank is ventilated.

For an unventilated tank, it may be necessary to make a frame and cover from suitable mesh. Appropriate care must be taken whenever insect spray is used. An additional cover, such as a towel, should be left in place for six hours after spraying the room.

For most tropical and temperate fish, a water temperature range of 22C - 25C is adequate. An aquarium heater may be used to control the temperature.

Aquariums should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as it will overheat the water and cause algae to grow rapidly. Diffused, filtered natural light can be used. Artificial lighting is usually by fluorescent tubes controlled by timers. Lights must not be suddenly turned on and off because some fish may become very nervous and move erratically around the tank. A dimmer light switch will avoid this problem. The correct lighting is very important for aquarium plants. In a new aquarium, 12 hours of artificial lighting each day should be enough for most aquatic plants. The exposure time may be increased or decreased until a good plant growth rate is achieved.

Food requirements

Manufactured fish foods can be fed to tropical and temperate fish. Other types of foods – for example, frozen food mixtures, prawns, brine shrimp and mosquito larvae – may also be given. However, unless expert advice to the contrary is available, commercially-available foods are preferred.

The quantity of food depends on the type, age and number of fish in the tank. As a general rule, sufficient to be eaten within a few minutes should be given. Overfeeding can cause health problems and result in uneaten food decomposing and causing pollution of the water, resulting in fish illness and death.

Daily feeding is usually sufficient and never more than twice a day.

Normal behaviour

Varies with species and therefore other references must be consulted for information about the type of fish you intend to keep. Incompatible fish species may eat others and some fish species are very aggressive.

Signs of illness

Signs of illness include skin lesions such as spots, ulcers or growths, floating, listing and swimming upside down. Seek advice from veterinarians familiar with fish diseases.

Handling

Fish should not be handled. A small aquarium net can be used to capture them.

Euthanasia

In the case of a fish becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for fish.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate planning

A fate plan should be considered before using fish in any program. Fish that are no longer required must be re-homed.

Fish should not be released into natural waterways.

More information

Kindly sourced from the SAEC – Schools Animal Ethics Committee of Western Australia

Guinea pigs

Cavia porcellus

Varietal range difference

The most common varieties are:

  • English and American – smooth, short hair (30-40 mm in length), which lies close to the body
  • Abyssinian – short hair which forms whorls and rough, curly rosettes over the body
  • Long-haired – Angora (smooth) and Peruvian (rough). These have hair that can grow to over 120 mm in length

Physical characteristics

Size: mature animals have a stout build and are about 150mm in length
Weight: male: 900g - 1200g; female: 700g - 900g
Age at adult size: male: 10 weeks; female: 6 - 8 weeks
Average life span: 4 - 6 years
Weight at birth: 70g - 100g
Gestation period: 59 - 72 days (average 65 days)
Number of offspring: usually 2 - 5
Litter frequency: 3 - 5 per year
Description at birth: completely covered with fur, eyes open, full set of teeth and fully mobile within 1 hour of birth
Desirable weaning age: 21 days (180g). Females may come into oestrus at less than 4 weeks of age so weaning/separation of females from males should occur before this
Breeding ages: males 650g (3 - 4 months); females 400g (3 - 4 months). Sows not bred before 6 months of age may experience dystocia (difficult labour)
Feet: 3 digits on hind limb; 4 digits on forelimb
Tail: none, but has barely visible tail bone
Body temperature: 37.2C - 39.5C
Heart rate: 230 - 380 beats/minute
Respiration rate: 42 - 104 breaths/minute

General biology and normal behaviour

The guinea pig is a docile, stocky, tailless rodent originating from South America. Male guinea pigs are called boars and females sows. Unlike many other rodents, they do not stand on their hind legs, usually keeping all four feet on the ground. In the wild they do not burrow but live in the dugouts of other animals.

Guinea pigs are social animals. In the wild, they live in small family groups of 5 - 10 individuals in the burrows of other animals. Companionship is essential but adult guinea pigs introduced to each other may fight. Guinea pigs establish male-dominated hierarchies and subordinate animals may be chewed or barbered.

If males and females are housed together, a ratio of one mature male to 3 - 6 females works well. Young litter mates of the same sex are often good companions, with the proviso that, as the males mature, they cannot smell or see females. Males sensing females close by are likely to fight.

Guinea pigs are vocal animals: they purr, whistle, squeak and teeth chatter as a means of communicating with each other. They may also become vocal when stressed or in anticipation of food. Females with young make a soft clucking noise, while the young chatter. To attract a male, a female on heat makes low, quiet bleats.

Guinea pigs are not ideal animals for observation, as they choose to spend a great deal of their lives hiding. However, they do respond to frequent, gentle handling. They rarely bite or scratch, but are very messy and have a tendency to scatter feed and bedding. As they mature, they like set handling patterns and may become agitated if feed or water containers are changed. They are extremely sensitive to being moved and as a result may freeze for 30 minutes or more.

Environment

In the wild, guinea pigs live in a wide range of environments, from rocky or mountainous regions to grasslands and swamps. They prefer subdued lighting and generally feed at dusk, sheltering in burrows during the day. Young guinea pigs adapt well to change but as they become older they become less adaptable.

Guinea pigs may be housed indoors or outdoors (in shaded situations with access to fresh grazing). Outdoor hutching systems should provide a mixture of grazing area and solid floors. However, whether they are housed indoors or outdoors, guinea pigs can become agitated if their cages are unclean or they are moved frequently.

Indoor cages should not be placed near windows, especially during winter or midsummer; in direct sunlight; in draughts from ventilators, windows or doors; in places exposed to fumes of any kind; over or near heaters; or where access is difficult.

Outdoor cages should be kept out of direct sunlight and strong winds and moved indoors or onto a veranda in cold weather. They should also be weatherproof and capable of protecting the animals against predators.

A variety of cages is available. They should be draught free, easily cleaned and dry. Hutches should consist of two connected compartments with an exercise area and a dark sleeping area. Guinea pigs need the last as a place of refuge to s deal with stress.

Guinea pigs that have not been raised in wire-based cages may fracture their legs due to inexperience if they are transferred to raised wire-based cages. If wire-based cages are used, a section of solid flooring should be provided.

Open cages are only suitable for guinea pigs housed indoors and must have sides of at least 400mm in height. Outdoor cages must be completely enclosed to ensure that the animals are protected against predators.

A suitable cage for two guinea pigs is 1500mm in length and 800mm wide and high.

Up to about three weeks of age, guinea pigs are very active, playing with litter mates or alone. Adult guinea pigs, however, are relatively inactive animals; they do not climb or jump, but they require environmental enrichment in the form of hay or straw bedding to chew and burrow in, plastic tunnels or low ramps. Daily exercise in a safe, grassy area, protected from predators, is desirable.

Guinea pigs may stampede if scared or suddenly disturbed and may smother young or smaller animals. Good husbandry techniques must be applied to prevent this happening. Placing obstacles in the cage may decrease the incidence of stampeding and circling.

Guinea pigs prefer an environment in the range 18C - 22C. Temperatures above 30C and below 17C are not well tolerated, particularly by young animals. Animals provided with suitable bedding and living in groups may be able to stand cooler temperatures.

Guinea pigs prefer subdued lighting and need well-ventilated but draught-free environments.

Bedding should be in the form of softwood shavings, coarse sawdust or shredded paper, with hay (or straw without grass seeds) being added for nesting. Sufficient bedding should be provided to enable animals to burrow/tunnel under it. New litters should not be disturbed for at least one week after the birth.

Cages and feed containers should be cleaned daily, with soiled bedding material being removed and replaced with clean bedding. All bedding should be changed weekly and the cage scrubbed vigorously with detergent and hot water or a mild disinfectant and then thoroughly rinsed. A mild acidic formula may be required to remove urine scale. Guinea pigs are notoriously messy and require frequent cage cleaning to avoid stress.

Food and water

Guinea pigs are herbivores and must have vitamin C in their diet to maintain good health. Guinea pigs, like primates, lack the enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase, which is required to produce vitamin C.

Animals should be fed twice daily. Guinea pigs do well on a balanced diet of commercial pellets, supplemented with fresh produce and hay. Guinea pigs have a daily food requirement of approximately 6g of food per 100g of body mass but this varies depending on the animal's physiological state and the type and quality of the diet. Demand feeding often provides the best alternative, provided that the animals' weights are monitored to prevent excessive gain.

Freshly-milled guinea pig pellets (less than 90 days old) are required to ensure vitamin C levels are maintained. Fresh fruit and vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, green feed, carrots and pumpkin can supply vitamin C in the diet or, if vitamin C levels are not supplied in the feed, it can be provided in the drinking water.

Guinea pigs have a high dietary fibre requirement and good-quality lucerne hay can be fed for the purpose.

As guinea pigs' teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, the provision of gnawing blocks and raw fruit and vegetables can assist in the maintenance of teeth and the avoidance of teeth problems.

Guinea pigs need 10mL-15mL of water per 100g of body weight but this may vary depending on their physiological state and environment. Inverted glass or plastic water bottles with metal sipper tubes are recommended. Guinea pigs will chew and occasionally spit food up and block the tubes, so these should be checked at least twice daily and the animals provided with two or three drinking bottles.

Food and water containers should be suspended away from bedding, as guinea pigs tend to defecate and urinate in open containers.

Note that guinea pigs are very fussy eaters and may refuse to eat or drink if feed or feeders are changed.

Handling

Guinea pigs need to be handled calmly and with care to prevent distress and injury to them and their handlers. Regular, gentle handling and the provision of treats at the time of handling helps to reduce the animals' fear of being held. Long-haired guinea pigs require daily grooming to ensure that their coats do not become matted and soiled.

Guinea pigs sometimes freeze when being transported and provision should be made for somewhere for them to hide. They will recover well if left undisturbed for approximately one hour. Unlike mice and rats, they usually do not chew through transport containers.

Ensure good ventilation, no overcrowding and a small amount of hay to help protect animals placed in transport boxes.

All teachers and students must maintain a high level of hygiene before and after handling animals, washing their hands with warm soapy water and obtaining appropriate first-aid or medical treatment for bites. The gentle nature of guinea pigs makes them one of the easiest laboratory animals to handle. They rarely bite but they can, and will, if handled incorrectly. They should be lifted by grasping them under the trunk gently but firmly with one hand, while supporting the rear quarters with the other hand. Great care should be taken when handling pregnant females.

Guinea pigs are extremely sensitive to over-handling. Only one student should handle an animal in any one session.

Guinea pigs differ from one another in temperament only those that do not show distress when handled should be used. Sudden noises or movements should not be permitted near the animals.

Disease prevention

Disease control methods and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with veterinarians. All activities must be documented in the appropriate records.

Signs of illness

The first sign noticed is often a change in the animal's natural demeanour: it may be listless or lethargic. Closer examination may show variations in:

  • body temperature
  • gastrointestinal functions, such as diarrhoea, weight loss or loss of appetite
  • urogenital functions, e.g. abortion, infertility or abnormal discharges or changes in frequency or volume of urine
  • respiratory functions, e.g. persistent coughing, gasping or panting

or evidence of:

  • skin conditions, such as lesions or abnormal growths
  • tucked-up appearance, stiff gait or abnormal posture, patchy coat or loss of hair
  • excessive scratching or rubbing
  • swollen joints or limping
  • dribbling

Animals with any of these symptoms should be isolated from other animals immediately and their cages disinfected fully.

A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness.

If an animal shows signs of ill-health or distress, immediate veterinary advice should be sought. Any illnesses or injuries and the treatment given should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of a guinea pig becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable on humane grounds, euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for guinea pigs.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate plan

A fate plan should be considered before using a guinea pig in any program. Guinea pigs that are no longer required must be re-homed.

More information

Kindly sourced from the SAEC – Schools Animal Ethics Committee of Western Australia

Invertebrates

Invertebrates are animals without backbones.

Common types include insects, spiders, crustaceans, annelids (worms) and molluscs.

Environment and behaviour

They are found in every habitat in the world and have diverse body shapes, sizes, needs, lifecycles and behaviours. In Australia, there are over 200,000 species of invertebrates but only approximately 10,000 of them have been documented fully.

The study of invertebrates can be a useful addition to student learning, as they are naturally fascinating and can generally be closely observed. Invertebrates can be observed in their natural environment in backyards, classrooms, schoolyards and local parks. They may also be kept in the classroom where students can develop an understanding of the animals’ specific environmental and biological needs, behaviour, reproduction and growth.

Invertebrates cannot be taken from the wild and kept as pets. It is permissible to remove animals temporarily for short periods of observation but they must be returned to their habitat promptly. It is important to note that some species of invertebrates are endangered and should not be removed from the wild under any circumstances.

Invertebrates commonly kept in classrooms or used in teaching activities include:

  • Freshwater crayfish (including marron and yabbies)
  • Hermit/crazy crabs
  • Earthworms
  • Insects: ants, cockroaches, silkworms, mealworms, stick insects, butterflies and moths
  • Molluscs: snails
  • Arachnids: spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites
  • Single-celled animals: paramecium, euglena

Invertebrates are vary widely in form and in their care and housing requirements. If you are planning to keep invertebrates in the classroom, it is important to consult reference material with regard to their husbandry. As with all animals used in classrooms, before acquiring invertebrates an acceptable fate plan must be in place for when they are no longer required.

VSAEC recommends that schools:

  • maintain the environment as close as to the invertebrates’ natural habitats as possible
  • return the animals to their natural setting after use if practicable
  • purchase organisms from reputable suppliers rather than taking them from their natural settings
  • use as few as are necessary to meet teaching and learning objectives
  • encourage observational work in natural habitats or settings

More information

Kindly sourced from the SAEC – Schools Animal Ethics Committee of Western Australia

Mice

Mus musculus

Varietal range difference

There are over 330 species of mice in the world, but only the house mouse (Mus muscularis) should be kept as a pet in Australia. There are over 40 different types of domestic house mouse and they display a wide variety of coat colours and fur types, including long hair and curly hair.

Physical characteristics

Size*: overall length from nose to tail tip: 140mm-180mm; approximate length from nose to tail base: 70mm - 90mm; approximate length of tail: 70mm - 90mm
Weight*: adult male: approximately 20g - 40g; adult female: approximately 18g - 35g
Age at adult size: 10 - 12 weeks
Average life span: 2 years; range 1 - 3 years; maximum reported 6 years
Weight at birth: 1.0 g - 1.5g
Gestation period: 19 - 21 days
Number of offspring: 4 - 14
Weaning age: 21 days
Range of breeding ages: mice are sexually mature from 5 - 7 weeks of age. Female mice can, however, have their first oestrus cycle from 25 to 28 days of age. The recommended breeding age for mice is from 2.5 months to 12 months. The interval between births for mice can be as short as 3.5 - 6 weeks
Body temperature: 37.1C - 37.4C
Heart rate: 310 - 840 beats/minute
Respiration rate: 160 breaths/minute (range 94 - 163)
* Some types of fancy mice can be heavier and larger than traditional pet house mice.

General biology

When caring for and developing comfortable housing for mice, it is important to consider the following:

  • mice are social animals and can be kept in groups. Females will generally do well in single-sex groups, even when introduced together as adults. Male mice can be kept together if introduced at weaning and provided with enough room. Males will generally fight if placed together as adults. Males and females housed together are likely to breed quickly, often producing large litters
  • smell is very important to mice, so, when cleaning their housing or handling them, avoid generating strong odours such as those produced by deodorisers or perfumes. Ideally, mice should not be kept in the same environment/room as rats (which are natural predators of mice), as their odour can cause mice to exhibit fear/stress responses
  • mice are sensitive to sudden loud noises, so noise levels should be considered when deciding on cage placement
  • mice have good vision (similar to that of humans), but as they are predominately nocturnal, they avoid brightly-lit areas. Refuges, such as bedding and hiding places, should be provided in well-lit areas
  • touch is important to mice and they prefer contact with solid surfaces as opposed to wire floors and avoid open spaces. When travelling from one area to another, mice will remain in contact with the wall. The provision of dividers in their cages decreases fearful and anxious behaviour
  • mice in the wild eat a wide range of foods and ideally pet mice fed a diet of commercial pellet food should be provided with a variety of supplementary foods

Normal behaviour

Healthy mice are alert, active and inquisitive. They have bright, clear, open eyes. Their ears stand up straight and their fur is dense and sleek. The behaviour of mice in a laboratory depends on how many are caged together, the size and type of cage, and the environmental conditions.

Mice are very agile acrobats and normal caged behaviour includes running, jumping, standing on their hind legs and climbing. They are social animals and should not be kept alone. If they are not being used for breeding, they should be placed in single-sex groups shortly after weaning.

Mice are nocturnal. They feed predominately at night and are far more active in low light, although they can have periods of activity at various times during the day. During daylight hours, it is normal behaviour for them to huddle together to conserve body heat. Healthy mice sleep in the foetal position and extension at rest is considered to be a sign of ill-health.

Some strains of mice are aggressive and are not suitable for use in the classroom. Most are not aggressive but will bite if frightened. Cannibalism is rare but it does occur, most commonly when nesting females are disturbed shortly after the young are born. It can also be an indication of inadequate diet or poor maintenance.

During the breeding period, it is normal behaviour for males to nibble the females’ heads or bodies and to examine their anogenital areas before copulation. Pregnant females show nest-building activity before giving birth and during lactation.

Environment

Mice should not be housed with other species. They should be kept in stable groups of at least two animals to provide for social interaction. Cage designs vary and when selecting a cage it is important that it meet the standards required for safety, security, ease of cleaning and animal comfort and allow student observation. A cage or nesting place should be seen as the animals’ home or domain and disturbed as little as possible. It must be remembered that the environmental requirements of small mammals are complex and imperfectly understood.

Pet shops can supply plastic mouse cages that are well designed or an unused aquariums with wire mesh lid, makes an excellent container. Mice see red as black and thus opaque red plastic houses can be used to shelter in whilst still being observable.

The minimum cage size for two or three mice is a height of 125mm and floor area of 500cm2 per pair or three. A suitable cage size for two mice is a length of 600mm, depth of 300mm, and height of 250mm.

Mice are very active animals. While everyday activities give mice adequate exercise, they seem to enjoy exercise equipment if it is available. A running wheel is usually very well utilised. Elevated boxes and tubes made of either cardboard or polycarbonate, make excellent exercise areas.

Mice prefer a temperature range of 18C - 24C and should be provided with good bedding and shelter during environmental extremes. Avoid large fluctuations in temperature.

Good natural lighting or artificial lighting of 45 - 60 lux should be provided. Cages should be kept out of direct sunlight and contain areas of shelter to which the mice can retire out of the light. Cycles of 12 - 14 hours of light and 12 - 10 hours of darkness are ideal.

Good, draught-free, natural ventilation is required. Mice should not be housed outdoors.

Litter should be non-toxic to mice, highly absorbent, dust free, splinter free, economical and easily disposed of, inedible and uncontaminated by pesticides or chemicals. To encourage natural behaviours such as nest building and burrowing, bedding could include wood shavings, clean shredded paper, soft cardboard, rice hulls or absorbent paper pellets. Toilet rolls and shredded tissue can also be used.

Daily removal of droppings, soiled bedding and uneaten food is recommended. Cages should be cleaned thoroughly at least twice a week. Dirty bedding should be removed and disposed of and the cage washed with a suitable cleaner and dried thoroughly. As mice scent mark their territory with urine, a small amount of bedding should remain each time the bedding is changed. Mice should be returned to the same cage in the same site, as change can induce stress in them.

Commercial nesting materials are available, but hay, straw, shredded paper, paper towel and paper tissues are also suitable. Avoid cottonwool, as this may trap newborns, wrap around the limbs of young mice and cause injury.

Food and water

Commercially-prepared mice pellets or cubes are recommended, as they provide a nutritionally-balanced diet. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for quantities.

As a general guide, mice eat 15g of food per 100g of body weight, although this varies with their environment and physiological status. Lactating females need approximately four times the amount of food and water required by an adult mouse. Demand feeding often provides the best alternative, provided that the weight of the mice is monitored to ensure that there is no excessive gain. As mice prefer fresh food, it is better to purchase small amounts on a regular basis. Mice enjoy variety and their diet can be supplemented with small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables and suitable seeds in small amounts.

Fresh, clean water must be provided at all times. An adult mouse needs about 4 - 7mL and a lactating female up to 14mL per day. As mice contaminate water in dishes and bowls, suspended water bottles with metal tubes are recommended.

The provision of a chewing block in the form of unpainted, untreated non toxic wood or commercially produced blocks will assist in the prevention of dental problems.

Handling

Mice need to be handled calmly and with care to prevent distress and injury to the animals and their handlers. Well-designed refuges assist in catching. If mice hide under structures, such as elevated shelves or nest boxes, they can be easily caught without struggling. Mice should be conditioned to be handled from a young age so they are well prepared for handling by students. They are fragile and students must be supervised while handling them.

In order to condition a mouse for handling by students, it must be handled for increasingly longer periods of time each day. This should be done until the mouse sits on a person’s hand without showing stress such as biting or fleeing. The designated mouse carer should perform this task in advance of any students handling mice. Initially mice will tolerate only a few seconds of handling but after a few tries they should tolerate many minutes. Mice should be rewarded when they are handled. Sunflower seeds are a suitable reward. It may take a few days for mice to become adequately conditioned.

Only mice that are accustomed to handling should be used. All handling should be gentle and unhurried. Sudden, loud noises and jerky movements must be avoided at all times. Adult mice may be safely lifted by the base of the tail but never by the tip or the middle of its tail. After being lifted, the mouse should be placed immediately onto a firm surface such as the back of the hand or a table, while still being held but not dangled in the air. Mice can also be picked up by closing the hand almost completely around them. Handle mice gently to avoid any accidental injury. A mouse can be grasped by the scruff of the neck to immobilise it or enable examination underneath. The only way to adequately restrain a mouse is to grasp the skin on the back of the neck firmly and with the other hand, or the third and fourth fingers of the hand holding the scruff, hold the base of the tail.

Weaning

If breeding mice, once mice are weaned the litter should be separated into same sex groups to avoid early breeding between littermates. As mice are able to breed from six weeks of ages the separation of the litter will need to occur well before this at around three weeks of age.

Weighing of animals

Mice should be placed in a small container such as a beaker for weighing. The weight of the beaker can then be subtracted from the combined weight of the beaker and mouse.

Electronic scales are suitable as quick results are obtained and this minimizes the time that mice are subjected to the procedure.

Disease prevention

Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with veterinarians. All activities must be documented in the appropriate records.

Signs of illness

The first sign noticed is often a change in the animal’s natural demeanour: it may be listless or lethargic. Closer examination may show:

  • a reluctance to move
  • an unkempt, erect coat
  • a discharge from the eyes, nose or urinary or genital organs
  • coughing and sneezing
  • constant scratching
  • lack of balance, stumbling or stiff-legged gait, soft faeces with an unpleasant smell
  • loose skin, which is a possible indication of weight loss
  • prostration or extension
  • any lumps that could indicate possible growths or abscesses

Mice with any of these symptoms should be isolated from the other animals immediately and their cages disinfected fully.

A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness.

If unable to identify or correct the cause of ill-health, assistance should be sought from a veterinarian who is familiar with mice. Any illnesses or injuries and the treatment given should be documented in the appropriate records.

Aggressive mice

Mice that are incompatible may be aggressive towards each other and display the following signs:

  • hair loss
  • wounding
  • weight loss
  • harassment

If these signs are evident, mice should be temporarily separated and reintroduced after a few days. If aggression continues it will be necessary to replace the mice with another pair. If serious wounding of mice occurs, veterinary advice should be sought.

Stress reduction

If mice show signs of stress such as extreme reluctance to being handled, hunched posture, sitting in one position with eyes squinted, lack of appetite or dehydration during handling, they should be returned to their enclosure and moved to a quiet area. Mice should not be handled more than twice per day by students and this should be monitored by the designated mouse carer.

Euthanasia

In the case of a mouse becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for mice.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Obtaining mice

Mice must be purchased from a licensed supplier. The enclosure the mice will be housed in should be taken when collecting the mice from the supplier. Bedding and adequate food and water should be provided. As mice can become stressed during transport, a sheet can be placed over the enclosure and the noise level should be kept to a minimum. Mice should not be left unattended in a vehicle, especially on warm to hot days. Litters and late pregnant females should not be transported for extended periods, if at all.

Fate plan

Before obtaining mice for use in the classroom, a fate plan must be created. Mice can sometimes be returned to their place of purchase. Check with the supplier beforehand. Alternatively, students may wish to adopt a mouse as a pet. In this case, teachers need to ensure that students have a secure mouse enclosure at home, can arrange for appropriate collection and transport from school and have written (6.4.1 Australian Code of Practice) parental permission to adopt a mouse. As one female has the potential to produce 12 young, it is necessary to arrange homes for this number in addition to the two parents before obtaining the mice.

Designated mouse carer

One person should be responsible for the overall management of mice at the school. This person should complete the following daily:

  • Check health of mice
  • Monitor and allocate the use of mice by classes according to above requirements
  • Check that nutritional food and clean water is provided
  • Clean enclosure as necessary
  • Communicate relevant information about the mice to staff and students
  • Maintain husbandry records
  • Maintain records of animal use

Where to keep mice

Mice should be kept in a quiet room with adequate ventilation, lighting and heating. When needed for classes mice can be brought in to the science room. Mice should not be left in the classroom for extended periods. Mice should be attended to on weekends and school holidays by a designated carer. If students are to care for mice on weekends or holidays then a written note from parents or guardians giving permission is to be obtained.

Veterinary care

It may be necessary to consult a vet should mice become ill or injured. Before purchasing mice, locate a vet who is able to provide this service.

Student involvement

Prior to animal use, students should be instructed on how to behave so to avoid stressing the animals. The following should be observed when using mice in the classroom:

  • Noise level to be kept to a minimum
  • Move slowly around the room when are in the room
  • The handling of mice should be kept to a minimum
  • Students should not feed mice any food other than that provided

Students should be instructed on how to safely catch and handle the mice. Some students may not want to handle the mice for various reasons. This should be respected. Mice can sometimes defecate or urinate when handled. Students should be informed of this possibility and be instructed to act calmly in this situation.

Hand washing facilities must be provided for students. Students should be encouraged to take responsibility for the cleaning of enclosures when needed.

More information

Rabbits

Oryctolagus cuniculus

Varietal range difference

Rabbits were once classified as rodents but are now are classified in the Order Lagomorpha, together with hares, pikas and American Cottontail rabbits. The domesticated rabbit was derived from the European wild rabbit, which was introduced to Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

There are a number of varieties of domesticated rabbit, but these can be divided into five main groups:

  • Californian and New Zealand White rabbits – large (2 - 5kg) animals bred for meat and research
  • Smaller breeds (up to 2kg) used as pets and research animals
  • Long-haired Angora varieties
  • Lop-eared rabbits with broad, pendulous ears (2 - 4kg)
  • Giant breeds

It is illegal to keep wild rabbits as pets.

Physical characteristics

Size: varies, depending on breed
Weight: small breeds approximately 2kg; large breeds 4kg - 8kg; giant breeds can be heavier
Age at adult size: male: 6 - 10 months; female: 4 - 9 months
Average life span: normally 5 - 8 years; have been known to live to 12 years
Weight at birth: 30g - 100g
Gestation period: 30 - 33 days
Number of offspring: 4 - 10
Weaning age: 5 - 8 weeks
Range of breeding ages: may become sexually mature at 18 - 22 weeks of age. Can be bred from 6 – 36 months of age. Ideally, the breeding range is 1 -3 years of age. Breeding from animals over 6 years of age is not recommended. On average, rabbits breed 4 times per year
Body temperature: 38C - 39C
Heart rate: 150 - 300 beats/minute (average 220)
Respiration rate: 32 - 65 breaths/minute (average 45)

General biology and normal behaviour

Healthy rabbits have sleek coats, clear, bright eyes and alert ears. The ears are used for cooling the body as well as for hearing. They have powerful rear limbs, which may cause painful scratches if the animal is not restrained properly.

In the wild, rabbits are social animals that live in groups. Domestic rabbits also need companionship with other rabbits and should be housed in compatible groups. Generally, female rabbits are compatible but on puberty (approximately 12 - 14 weeks of age) male rabbits will commonly begin to fight. Castration before puberty will often prevent problems with fighting.

It is important to maintain a stable group of rabbits, as removing or replacing animals will disrupt hierarchies within the group and can result in serious fighting and resultant injuries.

When establishing new groups of rabbits, young pre-pubescent animals are best.

Recommended combinations of groups that provide companionship but control breeding include two compatible females, two desexed males or a female and a desexed male. If a rabbit is housed alone for some reason, it must be able to see and smell other rabbits to reduce stress.

Rabbits housed in wire cages may catch and injure their limbs or develop hock sores. Even though rabbits can sit for hours – or even days – without signs of distress, inactive animals should be checked for injuries.

Stress can be caused by extreme temperature changes, overcrowding and exposure to predators such as cats, dogs, owls, foxes and goannas.

Rabbits have a very light bone structure and are therefore susceptible to fractures, so care should be taken when handling them and in the provision of suitable housing.

Rabbits' teeth grow throughout their lives. To decrease the incidence of dental problems, gnawing blocks should be provided.

Environment

Rabbits may be housed indoors or, in temperate conditions, outdoors, with access to fresh grazing. Outdoor hutching systems should provide a mixture of grazing areas and solid floors.

Whether they are housed indoors or outdoors, rabbits can become agitated if their cages are dirty or they are moved frequently. Those kept indoors should be housed in well-lit and well-ventilated areas, away from draughts, fumes and noise. Rabbits are extremely sensitive to excessive humidity, so cages should be positioned to take this into consideration.

Indoor cages should not be placed:

  • near windows, especially during winter or midsummer
  • in direct sunlight
  • in draughts from ventilators, windows or doors
  • in proximity to fumes of any kind
  • over or near heaters or
  • where access is difficult

Rabbits require a floor area proportional to their size. Overcrowding must be avoided to decrease the probability of fighting and injury.

A rabbit's enclosure should be large enough to allow three hops in one direction. For a large rabbit, this would mean that the cage should measure at least 2000mm in one direction. For two to four large rabbits living together, the minimum floor area should be 2m2. For two smaller rabbits, a suitable hutch size is 1800mm in length, 90mm in width and 900mm in height.

Rabbits must be able to stretch upright with their ears fully erect. This means that cages must be a minimum of 450mm (but preferably 750mm) high for smaller rabbits.

The normal mode of movement for a rabbit is hopping. Rabbits need to be provided with enough room to hop. If animals are kept in smaller cages they must be provided with access to exercise pens. These pens need to be secure to prevent the animals from digging out and to protect them from predators.

Rabbits need to have environmental enrichment in the form of toys, sticks, climbing surfaces, retreats and hiding places: for example, cardboard boxes and large plastic pipes.

Rabbits can tolerate temperatures between 5C and 27C but for optimum health they should be maintained between 15C and 20C. They can become stressed at temperatures above 27C and may suffer from hyperthermia and die very quickly. Frozen water bottles can help to reduce the incidence of hyperthermia by providing cool surfaces for rabbits to lie against in hot weather. Rabbits should be checked regularly throughout the day in hot weather to ensure that they are not becoming overheated.

Rabbits need well-ventilated, low-humidity environments, away from fumes. If they are housed outdoors, they need to be provided with weatherproof hutches, preferably made of wood. Although metal cages are more durable and easier to clean, in warmer weather (and particularly if they are located in direct sunshine), they heat up very quickly and the rabbits housed in them are highly susceptible to fatal hyperthermia.

Rabbit housing must be secure against predators and, ideally, rabbits should be housed indoors at night.

The bottom of a rabbit house should be a combination of solid flooring and mesh to prevent burrowing. The meshed area should rest on the ground. Rabbits should not be housed on elevated mesh floors, as they can suffer from sore hocks and leg damage unless an area of solid flooring is provided.

It is advisable to cover outdoor hutches with mosquito netting to reduce the chances of the rabbits contracting the mosquito-borne disease myxomatosis.

Rabbits prefer straw, hay or shredded paper as bedding. Coarse sawdust or softwood shavings are also suitable. Ideally, a wood shaving bedding should be 50mm deep and covered with a thick layer of bedding straw.

A week before giving birth does pull fur from their bodies to line the nesting area.

Rabbits eliminate large quantities of faeces and urine. Their cages should be cleaned daily – or at least every second day – except when a new litter is born. If disturbed within the first week after giving birth, the doe may eat her young.

Cages should be scrubbed, disinfected and rinsed thoroughly at least once a week.

Food and water

Rabbits consume large quantities of food. They should be provided with pellets on demand. Small quantities of good-quality hay and well-washed vegetables are recommended as supplements. Pregnant and lactating does require more food and water.

Rabbits should be provided with a wooden gnawing block to help to wear down their teeth and decrease dental problems.

A clean, fresh and reliable supply of water is necessary. The use of drink bottles with metal sippers is recommended. These should be placed so that the nozzles are about 100mm from the floor. Rabbits can consume approximately 100mL of water per kilogram of body weight per day and this increases during warm weather.

Handling

Rabbits need to be handled calmly and with care to prevent distress and injury to the animals and their handlers.

Features of the design of rabbit houses, such as elevated shelves or nest boxes, should allow rabbits to be reached and restrained easily by handlers.

A well-trained and regularly-handled rabbit will hop quietly around a room if noise and the movement of students are kept to a minimum. Rabbits can, however, inflict serious bite injuries and painful scratches if stressed or not properly restrained.

Never pick a rabbit up by its ears or hind legs: it may break its back. Always use both hands to lift and support a rabbit. Place one hand over the rabbit's shoulders and the other under its rump and scoop it up. Difficult-to-handle rabbits may be grasped gently but firmly by the skin at the back of the neck and the handler's other hand used to support the rump. Alternatively, rabbits may be wrapped in towels to reduce kicking and scratching. Always use two hands to carry a rabbit and ensure that its weight is supported at all times. Rabbits do not, as a rule, like to be hugged or cuddled, as it makes then feel threatened.

All rabbits need to be groomed regularly and those with long coats daily: they may also require clipping. Angora rabbits must be clipped at regular intervals by experienced handlers.

Disease prevention

Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian or the Department of Sustainability and Environment. All activities must be documented in the appropriate records.

Signs of illness

The first sign noticed is a change in the animal's natural demeanour: it may be listless or lethargic. Closer examination may show variations in:

  • body temperature
  • gastrointestinal functions, such as diarrhoea, weight loss or loss of appetite
  • urogenital functions, e.g. abortion, infertility or abnormal discharges, changes in urine volume or frequency
  • respiratory functions, e.g. persistent coughing, gasping or panting

or evidence of:

  • skin conditions, such as lesions or abnormal growths
  • tucked-up appearance, stiff gait or abnormal posture, patchy coat or loss of hair
  • excessive scratching or rubbing
  • swollen joints or limping
  • dribbling

Rabbits with any of these symptoms should be isolated from other animals immediately and their cages fully disinfected.

A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness.

If an animal shows signs of ill-health or distress, veterinary advice should be sought immediately. Any illnesses or injuries, and the treatment given for them, should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of a rabbit becoming so sick, diseased or injured that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, on humane grounds euthanasia must be arranged with a veterinarian or a person competent in the technique for rabbits.

A record of deaths is required for the annual report to VSAEC.

Fate plan

A fate plan should be considered before using a rabbit in any program. Rabbits that are no longer required must be re-homed.

More information

Kindly sourced from the SAEC – Schools Animal Ethics Committee of Western Australia

Sheep

Ovis aries

Breeds and uses

The majority (80%) of the 100 million sheep in Australia are Merinos, farmed mainly for wool. Through cross-breeding and selection over many years, several different Merino strains have been developed. For example, Saxon Merinos from the Tasmanian highlands produce ultrafine wool suitable for use in fine Italian suits, while South Australian Merinos (bred for their ability to thrive in fairly adverse grazing conditions) tend to cut 'coarse' wool of thicker fibre diameter.

The remaining 20% of Australia's sheep include part-Merinos such as the dual purpose 'Corriedale', farmed for both meat and wool. Specialised meat breeds include the 'cross ewes' (Merino X Border Leicester or Merino X Romney) used to mother prime lambs.

Other breeds including Lincoln, the Cheviot, and the South Suffolk are less prevalent in commercial enterprises, but each has characteristics of value to 'boutique' or hobby farmers.

The basic management practices outlined in this document apply to both meat and wool sheep.

Physical Characteristics

Weight at birth: 2.5 - 5.0 kg (depending on breed and many other factors such as the dam's nutritional status)
Weaning age: 4-5 months
Age of adulthood: 24 months
Adult size: 600-950mm at the shoulder (depending on breed)
Adult weight: 35-90kg (up to 150kg for breeding rams)
Breeding age: Ewes: from 18 months (as long as they have reached an appropriate bodyweight and condition score); Rams: from 15-18 months
Expected life span: 6-11 years
Gestation length: 147-153 days
Number of offspring: normally single, with some breeds (e.g. Romney) predisposed to producing twins
Body temperature: 38.9˚C (+/- 0.5˚ C)
Heart rate: 50-80 beats/minute (average 75 beats/min)
Respiration rate: 15-40 breaths/minute (at rest)

Environment

Although sheep have evolved in open pasture-based systems, some of the climatic extremes to which they are exposed in Australian conditions mean that special attention must be paid to the provision of shelter, especially for:

  • recently shorn sheep, particularly in the first 2-3 days after shearing
  • lambing ewes. Newborn lambs are at greatly increased risk of death by exposure to cold, wind or rain (or any combination of these)
  • ill animals or those in poor body condition (e.g. after prolonged drought)

Types of shelter can include windbreaks, shelter belts of trees and bushes, natural undulations in paddock, or purpose built structures such as sheds. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries can assist with further information (see 'Guidelines for the Provision of Shelter for Sheep).

Provision of shelter, together with the establishment and maintenance of good fencing, also assists in protecting sheep from predation by foxes and dogs.

It is possible to house sheep intensively (eg in pens) if permission has been granted by VSAEC. In such cases, the following guidelines apply:

  • pens should hold no more than four animals and should be cleaned daily
  • at least 2.25 m2 of space must be provided per sheep
  • appropriate bedding (eg straw) must be provided and changed regularly
  • feed bins should be off the ground and cleaned regularly
  • automatic waterers supplying clean potable water ad lib must be checked and cleaned daily
  • if possible, pens should have slatted floors allowing urine and faeces to drop through
  • adequate sub-floor and room ventilation must be maintained (with special attention paid to temperature fluctuations, humidity and ammonia levels)

Food and water

Sheep have evolved to survive and thrive in pasture-based systems – ideally of good quality, and of a mix between grasses and legumes (e.g. sub-clover). Care should be taken when letting sheep onto pastures with high legume content as bloat may occur. It is normal for sheep to graze for an average of 8-9 hours per day, alternating periods of grazing with periods of rest where they lie down and ruminate (chew cud).

However, if feed supply is limited, they may graze up to 14 hours per day in an attempt to meet basic energy requirements. Beyond this point, the energy expended grazing will not be matched by intake and sheep will lose condition. It is thus better to be conservative with stocking rate, especially in times of drought.

DSE ('dry sheep equivalent') is the standard unit used to compare feed requirements of classes of livestock and to assess the carrying capacity of a farm or paddock. The standard DSE is the amount of feed required by a 2 year old 45 kg Merino sheep (wether or non-lactating, non-pregnant ewe) to maintain its weight. Energy requirements differ across classes of stock. For example, during late pregnancy and early lactation the nutritional needs of ewes are much higher than at other times of the year – such animals may be rated between 2.4 – 3.6 DSE. DSE ratings for various stock types are available at DELWP and may assist in flock feed management.

In order to ascertain whether sheep require additional feed beyond what is provided by pasture, it is essential to monitor the condition of the mob. Note that it is not possible to estimate body condition visually in any sheep other than those which have been freshly shorn. The most convenient way to estimate body condition (eg amount of muscle and fat on sheep) across the mob is by direct palpation and condition scoring. This information can be combined with measurement of live bodyweight on a set of scales inserted into the race.

If energy requirements cannot be met from pasture alone, sheep must be offered supplementary feed, e.g. hay, grain and/or concentrate mixes. In Victoria, this is often required in the periods February to April and July to August. When commencing supplementary feeding, introduce new foods gradually. Feed plenty of high quality roughage (eg hay) at regular intervals. Avoid the sudden introduction of large quantities of simple carbohydrates such as grain, which may cause 'grain overload' or lactic acidosis.

Some soils (and subsequently, the pastures growing on them) may be deficient in trace elements. This may lead to health problems in your flock. Consult local veterinarians or Department of Primary Industries officers regarding the need for supplementation with trace elements in your area.

Fresh, clean water must be readily accessible so that animals can help themselves 'ad lib'. The moisture content of the available feed will determine the amount of potable water required by sheep, as will the weather and age and condition of the animal. Expect water requirements to increase by 30% or more during summer.

In situations where lambs are not able to be mothered naturally (e.g., due to illness or death of the dam), it may be necessary to hand rear lambs. This takes considerable time and effort. Ensure that the lamb receives colostrum (which contains vital antibodies and nutrients) within 18 hours of birth, or else chances of survival will be greatly diminished.

Ensure an appropriate milk replacer and feeding frequency is selected. Maintain strict hygiene when reconstituting milk replacer in order to minimise contamination. Monitor lamb weight gains frequently. If scouring or other signs of illness occur, seek veterinary advice.

Handling and movement of the flock

It is possible to move sheep through facilities such as yards and raceways in a low stress fashion by working with the animals' natural behaviour and instincts. This is known as 'low stress stock handling' or 'natural stockmanship', and requires an understanding of what sheep 'want' and why they behave the way they do.

Sheep have evolved as a prey species, surviving by sticking together. As social animals, they require the presence of at least 4-5 neighbouring sheep whilst grazing to maintain a visual link to each other, and tend to become agitated if separated from the group in any way. Natural stockmanship seeks to work with, rather than against, this tendency for strong flocking and following behaviour. For example, handlers will take care not to isolate individual sheep by encircling them in a predatory manner in the paddock.

Another technique of natural stockmanship is to make use of the 'flight zone,' which may be thought of as an animal's 'personal space'. Sheep ranging over large properties with little human contact will have large flight zones. Tame or pet sheep will have smaller or negligible flight zones with respect to familiar people. By alternately penetrating and withdrawing from the animal's flight zone, a handler may induce a sheep to move.

Collectively, a mob of sheep will also have its own flight zone. Entering this zone initiates flock movement. Approach should be slow so as to initiate a gentle flight reaction, with sheep moving slowly away from the handler/s.

When close to sheep, handlers may also make use of the 'point of balance.' From the side view, this is a line drawn through the animal just behind its shoulder. The handler's position relative to this point will determine the animal's direction of movement. If the handler moves beyond this point towards the rear of the sheep, (essentially, out of visual range), the animal will move forward. When the handler moves to the front of the animal, the animal will move backward or turn away.

From in front, the animal's point of balance is the centre of its head. The handler can deflect sheep movement to the left or right by moving to either side of an imaginary line drawn through the length of the animal.

Utilisation of these rules of position and movement, together with the other low stress stock handling techniques described above, results in a 'win-win' scenario for both sheep and their handlers. Improved animal welfare outcomes are accompanied by a reduced risk of injury to handlers, a reduction in time taken to perform routine husbandry procedures, and better production gains and economic return.

Use of yards and raceways

Handling of sheep is made much easier if a set of solid yards (preferably with drafting race) is available. Many routine husbandry procedures eg hand jetting with insecticides may be performed while animals are in the raceway. Ideally these facilities will allow for the natural behaviour of sheep to occur, which aids in movement of the animals through the yards.

For example, sheep rounded up in the paddock and driven up the laneway will stay calmer and be easier to move and handle if:

  • handlers move equipment (eg gates) slowly and steadily
  • animals can clearly see where they are meant to go
  • they can see other sheep within touching distance
  • noise (especially high pitched machinery noise) is minimised
  • non-slip flooring is provided
  • pressure on uncomfortable parts of the animal's body is avoided

One-on-one handling

Some procedures necessitate the restraint of individual sheep. Sheep should not be caught or restrained by holding the wool as this may damage fleece or even cause bruising at skin level. In order to restrain a sheep:

  • draft it into a holding pen (smaller pens work better than larger ones)
  • straddle the sheep, one leg on each side at the shoulders, facing forwards
  • elevate the sheep's head from under the bony part of the jaw (not around the throat) with an open hand
  • keeping the head elevated above the back line, back the sheep against the wall or into a corner to keep it in one spot

Rams should only be handled by experienced personnel, as they are heavier and potentially aggressive, especially in breeding season.

Taming and gentling

Unlike dogs, sheep have no innate desire to please human handlers and respond best to direct reward (or the promise of one). Motivational training (positive reinforcement of behaviour with food or touch) is less stressful for animals and has been shown to work better than negative reinforcement (i.e. admonishment).

Sheep kept in schools and colleges tend to learn routines quickly. This has the effect of reducing the flight zones of individual animals and makes mustering and handling easier. However, the same principles of calm and careful handling still apply.

Transport

Movement of sheep on public roads must comply with the relevant legislation (e.g. the Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Animals during Transportation) and is also subject to other protocols and restrictions (e.g. waybills/National Vendor Declaration forms). Contact the Department of Environment and Primary Industries for advice prior to transport.

When transporting stock (e.g. to and from saleyards) ensure that:

  • there are no protrusions/sharp edges in vehicle or ramps which could injure stock
  • non-slip flooring is provided (including on ramps)
  • different classes and types of stock are not mixed together during transport
  • stock are inspected regularly throughout the journey
  • tethers (if used) are not too long (causing entanglement) or too short (forcing animals into an unnatural stance)
  • special care is taken with pregnant ewes, especially in inclement weather
  • adequate shade/shelter is provided

Disease prevention

Effective disease prevention involves regular preventative health measures such as vaccination and drenching (worming), as well as careful monitoring of both existing and incoming stock. In order to maintain your flock's health status, care should be taken when purchasing replacement ewes, wethers or rams. This will reduce the risk of introducing easily transmissible diseases such as footrot, sheep lice and Ovine Johne's Disease into the existing flock.

Sometimes managers of small flocks experience difficulty in sourcing smaller volumes of products such as vaccines and drenches, where minimum pack sizes may be 250-500 pieces. Local veterinarians or stock agents may be able to assist in supplying smaller amounts, or else schools could consider sharing packs with neighbouring properties.

Local contractors may be useful in providing services such as shearing and foot inspection and paring for schools where personnel experienced in these particular aspects of sheep husbandry are not available. A list of such contractors may be available from the local Department of Environment and Primary Industries office or veterinary clinic.

Note: All actions taken as part of a disease prevention programme should be documented in the appropriate flock health records.

Worming

Worm counts can easily build up in small flocks, especially if paddock rotation is limited. Internal parasite control programmes should be developed in consultation with veterinarians or the Department of Environment and Primary Industries. In addition to regular scheduled administration of worming drenches (e.g. to all sheep in the mob over summer), extra treatments may be required if signs of scouring or wasting and/or high worm egg counts occur.

Vaccinations

Local veterinarians or Department of Environment and Primary Industries officers will be able to provide advice on vaccination regimes appropriate to the age and class of sheep. For example, pregnant ewes are usually vaccinated 3-6 weeks before lambing to help protect the unborn lamb from disease in the first few weeks of life.

The '5-in-1' vaccine (providing coverage against five clostridial diseases) is commonly used as a core vaccine. Ensure that vaccines are correctly transported and stored (e.g. at or below 4˚C) in order to maintain product efficacy.

Crutching and shearing

Sheep with more than 12 months' wool growth are susceptible to flystrike, lice infestations, and possibly even restriction of vision and movement. All sheep on the property should therefore be sheared annually by an experienced shearer and an 'off shears' backline lice treatment applied. Shelter should be provided after shearing if it is cold, wet and/or windy, or very hot.

Some animals require crutching (removal of wool from the breech area) in between annual shearing sessions (e.g. ewes prior to lambing).

Flystrike prevention

Flystrike can be a problem even in small school or hobby flocks, especially if the flock is located less than 2km from a mainstream grazing area. Flock managers must be able to recognise when sheep need crutching and if they are flystruck, and organise treatment.

Spray on preventative products are available that provide protection from flystrike over the warmer months. These may be augmented by insect growth regulators applied immediately after shearing ('off shears'). Regular worming will also reduce the incidence of flystrike through the prevention of scouring and staining of the breech area. Veterinarians or local Department of Environment and Primary Industries officers will be able to assist with product advice.

Footrot prevention

This is best achieved by inspection and isolation of incoming stock, together with regular inspection and foot maintenance of existing stock (e.g. hoof paring and bathing in compounds to eliminate spread of bacteria).

Signs of illness

Flock health should be monitored at least daily. Young lambs require even more frequent monitoring as they can dehydrate quickly if unable to feed (e.g. due to illness or injury).

The first sign of ill health is often a change in the demeanour or normal posture of the animal. Sick animals may stand apart from the mob or fall behind when driven. On closer examination, animals may display some of the following signs:

  • changes in body temperature outside the normal range
  • evidence of gastrointestinal disturbance such as diarrhoea
  • discharge from eyes, ears, nose, vulva (and/or navel in lambs)
  • compromised respiratory function such as panting, coughing or gasping
  • excessive scratching or rubbing and/or 'pulled' wool
  • lameness, stiff gait and/or swollen joints

Over the longer term, a failure to grow or thrive is also a sign of illness.

Common conditions include excessive internal or external parasite burdens, bloat, lactic acidosis ('grain overload'), pneumonia, diarrhoea ('scours') and metabolic diseases such as hypocalcaemia and pregnancy toxaemia.

Pregnant and lactating ewes are especially at risk of metabolic diseases such as hypocalcaemia and pregnancy toxaemia. These are associated with a period of food restriction plus exercise or other movement stress (eg yarding for vaccination). So to ensure optimal health in ewes:

  • provide a rising plane of nutrition in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy (without overfeeding, as this may also cause problems)
  • handle pregnant ewes gently and avoid stressors such as mustering, prolonged yarding and/or road transport other than for essential husbandry procedures

Note: If the cause of ill-health cannot be identified and corrected, veterinary assistance must be sought. Any illnesses or injuries, together with treatments administered, should be documented in the appropriate records.

Euthanasia

In the case of sheep becoming sick or injured to the extent that recovery is unlikely or undesirable, euthanasia on human grounds must be arranged with a veterinarian or person competent in the technique for sheep.

Fate planning

Sheep can be sold privately, at auction or consigned to an abattoir. Carcases must be disposed of in accordance with local council regulations.

More information