Primary health care for livestock (1)

There is no room for inefficient livestock farming if we are to become food secure on the continent. For this to happen there must be transfer of health care knowledge through extension services in the livestock industry.

Small-scale commercial livestock farmers who farm cattle and small-stock on communal grazing lands are an important part of livestock production world-wide, as populations grow and less land is available for grazing. Although small-scale farmers in the Sub-region own by far the greater percentage of cattle, sheep and goats than commercial farmers, their productivity is woefully low in comparison. Small-scale farmers need to take charge and make changes. Without action, we face increasing poverty in communities, and ultimately permanent dependence on food aid from foreign countries.

MOVE OUT OF THE RUT

If change starts from within then you, the small-scale livestock farmer, must be accountable and manage for improved herd and flock production. This means some sensible thought as to what the problems are and how to achieve the needed improvements.

One fairly obvious method is to support governments that provide a decent extension service. Governments that are prepared to employ technicians and scientists genuinely interested in livestock systems who will work towards improving and maintaining animal health and production.

Farmers need to be informed about the vet products available to treat and avoid parasitic infestations, and the important infectious diseases.

NEVER FOLLOW ADVICE BLINDLY

Profitable animal production depends largely on animal health and the adaptability of livestock to their environments. However, production at any cost results in losses down the line and African stockowners should be wary of, for instance, focusing on improved carcass weights while forgetting that imported breeds may not have the necessary disease resistance to thrive in African environments.

Africanfarming.com recently published a story about extensive dairy cattle systems in Namibia. The story is interesting because it shows how a system can be adapted by thinking farmers to fit into the environmental and marketing regimes imposed on the stockmen and their animals. It is worth reading if only because it illustrates so clearly that farmers can, and do, find solutions to the toughest challenges.

STOCK FARMERS NEED INFORMATION

There is no doubt that agricultural extension services across the Sub-region have suffered major declines in efficiency and the ability to deliver information and tools to stock farmers. Commercial farmers use dedicated herd (or flock) vets who run routine herd checks and are available for emergency call-outs. Commercial stockmen rely on their vets for guidance on vaccination protocols, feeding regimes, disease treatment and herd health management. Small-scale cattlemen may be remotely situated and/or they may not have the funds to pay for vet services. But they have their eyes and their experience and they should have some form of network among the farming fraternity. One thing about farmers – 99% of them are willing to help their fellows, and I have yet to meet members of the 1% who are not.

African small-scale commercial stockowners need a transformation in the sector based on a better understanding of methods and scope of primary animal health care. This means empowering thousands of livestock owners by providing education and training in livestock health and production management. The transfer of knowledge and skills must come from veterinary professionals.

Hoisting a cow onto a sling in field conditions is an opportunity for the vet to teach farmers about diagnosing and treating problems. Farmers’ days are invaluable as they offer a platform for teaching, learning and networking.

TRAINING AND WHAT IT SHOULD ACHIEVE

Livestock farmers should understand what causes the most important diseases, and how these diseases affect their animals. Stockmen should be aware of diseases that can be passed onto humans.

There should be a comprehensive understanding of the income-generating value of healthy animals and the financial (and other) losses caused by disease or the death of an animal. It’s simple – if you lose an animal you have lost the profit of that animal. Here’s a useful motto: there is no such thing as an acceptable mortality – ever. If an animal dies find out why. If the cause was your lack of diligence take responsibility and never let it happen again.

Farmers should understand how to prevent disease by vaccination and how to manage and treat acute, deadly diseases.

Knowing what to use to treat and avoid parasitic problems and the most important infectious diseases is also critical.

There is no substitute for diligent and daily animal checks. It is key to maintaining health and spotting problems early. It also means the farmer can act at the first sign of disease or health-related problem.

Stock farmers need to cultivate a relationship with vet product suppliers so that they can access urgently-needed treatments in time. Seasonally-needed treatments, like parasite control products and vaccines, can be ordered ahead of time.

Farmers must be able to treat basic disease conditions, such as open wounds, abscesses and lameness. Some knowledge on how to help newly born animals, treating post-calving problems, mastitis and so on is also necessary. For this type of learning the farmer needs hands-on exposure and interaction with a vet or technician. There will be problems that need a vet. Learn to recognise them.

Primary animal health care provides improved technical skills for livestock owners, the right way to use animal health products and services, improved production, better disease surveillance and improved disease control programmes.

The challenge is to use every possible means of communication to give livestock farmers access to primary animal health care.

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