By Taruvinga Magwiroto
One of the most frustrating things about rearing ruminants on the veld is when they fall sick. Animal health is particularly problematic because most farmers cannot afford professional veterinary care. In most cases, the farmer or stockman is the primary veterinary carer.
And I must also say that even where professional care is available, animal diseases can be a big headache. However, taking certain precautions and knowing the determinants of disease can help the farmer.
So what can go wrong, and when?
Water:-I many ways, water is key to livestock health. In the dry season, the situation can be desperate. The veld is drier, the feed is drier and drinking water is more critical. Most natural water holes dry up. The water sources are likely to be further away, and the animal expends valuable energy walking to and from water sources.
In the dry season, water levels significantly drop off and the water becomes concentrated with solutes and contaminants. In many areas, water-borne diseases increase in incidences. Internal parasites and even spores of anthrax can be ingested with the water.
Starvation: – This should be obvious. Especially the young ruminants and suckling animals are very susceptible. Drought management is a big subject, but suffice it to say here that the farmer would need to decide which animals to cull/sell whilst they are still in good condition. The farmer will need to decide which animals are strong enough to go through the dry season and which will struggle and what to do about it.
Tick borne diseases:-while the incidences of tick-borne diseases increase in the rain season, some ticks are active year round. Considering the nutritional stress during this period, the animals’ immune is quite weak and the animal easily succumb to diseases. In Zimbabwe, watch out for Anaplasmosis (Gall Sickness) and Babesiosis (Red Water). Have an oxytetracycline and/or imidocarb ready.
Some handy solutions
1. Make use of dry crop residues: these could be maize stover, wheat stalks, rice or sugar beans/soya beans hulks. The principle of sprinkling alkaline (potash) salt solutions is universally advised: the salts help in softening the cell walls of the dry materials. Sodium chloride (common salt) also helps with appetite. As discussed in another post, molasses and urea (ad other sources of non-protein nitrogen) can be used as supplements.
2. Vaccinate animals at strategic times. Where money is a constraint, I would advise the following: As a rule of thumb, July/ August is a good time to vaccinate animals for common infectious diseases. This ensures that they go into the dry season reasonably well protected from infectious diseases. Certainly Anthrax, Blackleg, and other clostridium diseases can be vaccinated before the worst of the dry season.
3. Keep drugs handy:-Keep the following drugs in your cupboard: oxytetracycline; dewormers; wound remedies; Imizol (imidocarb diproprionate); etc.