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Herd health in a wet season

African Farming presenter Tony Ndoro herded his father’s cattle from a young age and is familiar with the disease challenges that above-average rainfall can bring. He asked Afrivet’s Dr Baty Dungu what livestock farmers should do to protect their animals during times of heavy rains. 

The best thing farmers can do for their animals is to practise prevention, says Dr Dungu. Prevention means farmers should have good health programmes, including vaccination schedules, in place, and these should be maintained continuously. According to Dr Dungu, this is far more constructive than employing crisis measures after a disease has broken out.

“We have seen widespread lumpy skin disease (LSD) outbreaks this past season and when there are periods of sustained heavy rainfall with flooding, the danger of Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is always a threat,” he explains.

There are effective vaccines available for both these diseases, but animals should be vaccinated before the outbreak to take advantage of the protection the vaccines offer. Some diseases may be spread accidentally by using dirty needles, so it is important to use a clean needle on every animal that is vaccinated. 

A very wet season comes with higher-than-usual insect populations and many of these insects are disease vectors. LSD, for example, is transmitted by biting flies and RVFV is vectored by mosquitoes. Dr Dungu advises farmers to look out for parasites and insect vectors, especially in tropical areas.

Sick animals need treatment, which can be expensive; production losses, whether in milk, meat, hides or wool, come at a high cost to the farmer. Abortions and mortalities in herds are the penalty farmers pay for neglecting effective vaccination programmes. 

Ticks are well known for transmitting pathogens to livestock, and tick populations thrive after good rains. Diseases like redwater, heartwater, gall sickness and East Coast fever are all transmitted by ticks.

Treatment is expensive but cheaper than losing animals. Prevention through vaccination and control of ticks through regular dipping are part of successful livestock management. 

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