Vet on Call: Pray, it’s time we move our abattoirs to the rural areas

Saturday March 25 2017

A butcher in a slaughterhouse in Kiamaiko, Nairobi.

A butcher in a slaughterhouse in Kiamaiko, Nairobi. Many animals are ferried from the Northern Kenya counties to the abattoir daily, but then when the slaughterhouse is established in the rural areas, it comes with numerous benefits. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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When I tell people that I am a veterinary doctor, the next thing they ask is, “So do you inseminate cows?” This question is so cliché that I am always tempted to answer it even before it is asked.

True, artificial insemination is a critical activity in veterinary practice as it guarantees production of high quality dairy and beef cattle.

For many Kenyans, having been born and bred in the rural areas, the guy called “Veterinary” is the stereotype for a veterinary surgeon.

This is the person, and they always used to be men, who would come to the artificial insemination crush with long plastic paper gloves and give the cow “seeds”.

The so-called seeds are actually semen commercially prepared from high quality bulls. The “Veterinary” is someone trained in cattle insemination at certificate level.

Veterinary doctors are also trained to do artificial insemination in animals but their training covers a universe of many other skills and expertise.

During the last two months, I have had an increase in the number of people wishing to draw on my expertise in livestock finishing and slaughter.

A number of people have asked me whether it would be economical for them to buy animals in the pastoral areas, fatten them and transport them for slaughter in the urban areas.

That brings me to a meeting we had with the governor of one of the rangeland counties in early February this year. We were considering a proposal to establish an integrated beef industry in the county.

This is an enterprise that would involve feed production and preservation, beef cattle breeding, rearing, fattening, slaughter and meat processing.

The meat products would then be distributed to both the Kenyan and export market.

MAKE PERFECT SENSE

At one point, the governor looked at me and asked “Dr Joseph, do you think it makes sense to slaughter cattle and process meat far away from the main markets?”

“It makes perfect sense as long as the processing area has sufficient infrastructure such as water, electricity and tarmac roads,” I responded.

Thereafter, I fully explained to the governor why it is highly worthy for his county to encourage setting up of an integrated beef enterprise.

You see, in Kenya, we have this culture where we believe the raw material must be transported to the urban centres for processing.

For instance, we transport cattle over 600km from Turkana to slaughter them at Dagoretti, in Nairobi.

Yet we have a different model in tea where we process the raw material in many factories located in the rural production areas. The processed tea is then sold both locally and internationally.

We could use the same model for livestock production and processing.

Transporting cattle and other livestock from the rural production areas to the urban for slaughter and meat processing has very many disadvantages.

Any investor planning to start large-scale livestock enterprises in the rural production areas should be supported with the appropriate infrastructure.

In my view, the government should even consider investment incentives such as tax break for such business people.

When we transport cattle from Mandera for instance to Nairobi for slaughter, a big component of the price the consumer pays for such beef goes to finance the transportation of trash from Mandera to Nairobi, and its disposal.

The cattle owner also loses on the sale price of each animal.

NOT POLLUTE ENVIRONMENT

The most important component of beef is the hot dressed carcass. This is the warm carcass after the skin, head, feet and internal organs have been removed.

On average, the hot dressed carcass weight of a cow is around 50 to 60 per cent of the live weight of the animal.

In some cases, it could even go down to 45 per cent. Dehydration of the animal during long travels further lowers the hot dressed carcass weight.

Some animals transported over long distances may also die or get so bruised that the carcass is declared unfit for human consumption.

While some of the internal organs of cattle are edible, the gut content of the stomachs and intestines, the hooves, horns, skin and the pregnant uterus and its contents are not edible.

The inedible components and condemned meat should be disposed of in a way that should not pollute the environment.

The inedible components in cattle can comprise up to 35 per cent of the live weight of the animal depending on whether the cow is pregnant.

This means that when we transport animals over long distances for slaughter, we buy and transport biological trash that is expensive for us to dispose.

EMPLOYMENT CREATION

The trash also robs the cattle producer of money because traders always factor in the cost of transporting and disposing the biological waste carried in the slaughter cattle.

If slaughterhouses are built at the rural areas of beef production, the trash would be disposed of more easily and cheaply.

Stomach and intestinal content would be used as manure for crop farming or fodder production.

It is also easier to transport meat and other edible beef products from the factories in the rural production areas than transporting live animals.

Furthermore, distribution of beef products from the rural production areas would start immediately from the factory gate and the nearest urban areas.

Another advantage of livestock processing enterprises in the cattle production areas is rural industrialisation with corresponding employment creation.

A slaughterhouse and meat factory in a rural production area can motivate the establishment of a leather processing and products factory in the same area.

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Hygiene

  • Research shows most slaughterhouses have poor working conditions and practices.
  • Most of them lack adequate infrastructure that include having no roof and even clean water.
  • Personal hygiene among workers is also poor, with farmers not wearing protective aprons and shoes.
  • Also, it is noted that some 20 per cent of animals admitted for slaughtering are sick exposing workers and consumers to diseases transmitted from animals to man.
  • According to workers, if the county governments improve the facilities, one of the consequences may be increase in meat prices leading to a rise in number of underground slaughter houses exposing consumers more.