Vet on call: Diseases that will lock your animals out of export market

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Edna Kirui feeds her dairy cows in Elburgon. Cows should be vaccinated against lumpy skin disease (LSD), black quarter and anthrax (Blanthrax) once per year and foot and mouth disease (FMD) twice per year. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG


Three weeks ago, I travelled to Limuru to examine 25 dairy cattle set for export to a neighbouring country.

I had a huge task ahead of me and I quickly drove to the Limuru farm to facilitate the export business for my client, Orenge.

He had called me two weeks earlier requesting that I lead him through the process. In the interests of his business, the destination country will remain anonymous.

My brief on the farm was to examine all the animals for health and production soundness and if they satisfied the set parameters, I issue a veterinary health certificate for each.

The certificate is officially known as an International Veterinary Health Certificate if it is to be used for export animals.

Owners Orenge and his business colleague, Musau, received me on the farm. I learnt Musau is based in the neighbouring country of export where he markets their livestock export business while Orenge is in Kenya where he locates the animals required for export and ensures the orders are supplied.

Musau told me the dairy cattle import business in the neighbouring country had picked up this year due to renewed interest in dairy farming.

Kenya was the first point of call to source dairy cattle for farmers in the country because of the proximity and favourable prices. The genetic stocks in Kenya also fitted well with the level of dairy farming in the country.

The owners of the farm were a man and his wife, Joy and John. My arrival appeared to brighten their faces when I was introduced as the doctor who was to examine the animals and issue the health certificates.

John told me they were happy because since they started negotiating the deal, they were sceptical it could be a con game. “You see, we did not know these two guys but they came and gave us an unbelievable proposal to handsomely buy three-quarters of our dairy cows and export them.” John volunteered with an infectious smile.


He further said they were wary the deal had sounded too good to be true. To safeguard their wealth, they had compelled Orenge and Musau to deposit the full cost of the animals in the farm’s bank account. They believed the deal was genuine when the two complied.

My first order of business was to confirm the identity of the animals and their health management. One crucial step had already been carried out with satisfactory results.

The neighbouring country’s import permit required that the animals have breeding records and laboratory confirmation from the Kenyan government that they were free of tuberculosis, brucellosis, genital campylobacteriosis and trichomoniasis.

I had already received a digital report on my phone from the National Veterinary Research Laboratories certifying that the animals were free of the four diseases. The sample collection and laboratory testing for the four diseases takes about eight days.

Next I was shown results of pregnancy tests that had been done and signed by another doctor. When I requested for the disease vaccination records, they were not available. The farmer said his cattle had not been vaccinated for the past one year but they had not had any illness.

“Doctor, the holy spirit is my guardian,” he concluded. I responded his religious beliefs were fine but as far as trade and animal health were concerned, we believed in vaccination and record-keeping.

These cows should have been vaccinated against lumpy skin disease (LSD), black quarter and anthrax (Blanthrax) once per year and foot and mouth disease (FMD) twice per year.

I informed the farmer I would examine the animals, and then advise on what to do about the vaccination if the animals passed health examination. Mentally, I made a note he could vaccinate the animals and hold them for at least 30 days before exporting them if all other health parameters were satisfactory.


I started by checking all the milking cows for mastitis using the California Mastitis Test (CMT). By the time I reached the thirteenth cow, nine of the animals had shown sub-clinical mastitis in one or more quarters. This is the form of mastitis where the milk looks normal but the animal is actually infected. CMT is able to reveal the infection. Such milk changes colour and turns into a gel whose viscosity increases with the severity of infection.

I was not very concerned with the sub-clinical mastitis because the remedy would be to withhold export for about two weeks.

During the withholding period, the mastitis would be treated with antibiotics infused through the teats. The animals would be tested and usually, complete healing is achieved within the two weeks.

Proceeding to the next lot of 12 cows that were in one shelter, I met the deal breaker. There were two cows with swollen lymph nodes.

One of the cows also had skin nodules around the shoulders and the upper part of the chest on both sides of the body. The two cows had normal body temperature, respiration and heart rate. They were also eating well.

I diagnosed active LSD viral infection. My findings were the news that both the buyers and the sellers would never have wanted to hear. The implications were very unwelcome to all. “Sorry people; these animals cannot be exported.

The import permit requires the herd to be free of LSD,” I concluded to the parties after explaining to them my findings.

Orenge exclaimed, “Very unfortunate, so near yet so far!” The impact was even heavier on Joy and John. They had left me doing the testing and animatedly said I inform them of the findings over the phone. The disappointment was very clear in John’s sigh as I broke the news to him.