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Vet on call: Guide to minimising losses on the farm

Saturday March 23 2019

Zahra Ahmed on her chicken farm in Utange, Mombasa.

Zahra Ahmed on her chicken farm in Utange, Mombasa. Insurance of one's livestock only helps the farmer to do business without incurring losses due to unavoidable circumstances such as theft and death of animals from unknown causes, diseases that have no preventive measures or diseases that defy scientifically proven treatments. PHOTO | LUDOVIC MBOGHOLI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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Some entries in my diary have nothing to do with diseases, injections, slicing and stitching. There are days that I go to the farm to assess the health status of the animals, their genetics and their monetary value.

It may be for the purposes of sale or purchase depending on the client’s interest or for insurance needs.

Last week, I had such an activity in Ruai on Paul’s farm. He had informed me that I needed to meet an insurance team that was to visit his farm, interview him and determine if his animals were worth to be insured.

Paul is a mixed farmer of Dorper sheep, pigs, dairy and beef cattle. The current livestock wealth on the farm fluctuates between Sh2 million and Sh6 million, depending on the stocking level.

While the farm has only 35 sheep, 10 beef cattle and nine dairy cows, there are times when the sheep and beef cattle numbers go into hundreds. Paul intends to cap the dairy herd at 50 milking cows in the next two years.

Dorper sheep and beef cattle are meat animals. In a commercial setting, the farmer will rear the animals on the farm for a specified time, fatten them and sell them off at the peak of their body condition to attain best market prices. Paul is in the process of restocking the sheep and beef cattle after selling off most of his stock for slaughter.

A commercial farmer should never allow herself to go through periods of fattened animals followed by weight loss and then fattening again. The weight loss and the rebuilding of the body is cash lost, never to be recovered.

Paul had in the past reared animals without insurance but luck was on his side and he never lost significant numbers due to incurable diseases or theft because he is very particular to the health and safety of his stock.

However, after considering the magnitude of the risk he felt it was time to change the trend. “I want to continue exploiting this farming business opportunity but won’t take the risk anymore,” he said.

The insurance team of three, Paul and I met on the farm. I was pleasantly surprised to physically meet Fredrick, whom I had only dealt with over the phone and email for a number of years.

AVOIDABLE HAZARDS

Paul and his manager took us on a tour of the farm for Fredrick and his team to inspect the suitability of the farm and animals to be insured. Meanwhile, my attachment student, Jane, furiously scribbled notes since it was her first such experience.

Many farmers ask what livestock insurance companies look for to decide if they can insure animals. The answer is simple as Fredrick explained:

“We make sure that the farmer has invested in good animals genetically and in appearance, the farmer and his team have sufficient livestock farming knowledge to feed the animals well and control diseases; and there is adequate security.”

Fredrick further said they rely on a licensed veterinary doctor contracted by the farmer to examine the animals’ health status and provide an evaluation of their monetary market worth.

The doctor should also confirm that the farm environment is free of avoidable hazards such as poisonous plants and physical objects. Such hazards, if found present, must be removed before insurance can be considered.

Paul explained his security arrangement on the farm to the satisfaction of the insurance team. The animal groups were all housed separately in shelters properly locked at night.

The meat animals are housed in one large shelter that has separate areas for the sheep and cattle. These two groups are fed in the shelter with hay and concentrate in the evening. During the day, the animals are grazed in open pasture under the care of a herdsman.

The dairy cattle are housed in their zero-grazing shelter. There is sufficient stored feed at all times comprising hay, maize silage, concentrate and mineral salts. Water is provided at all times in open troughs.

Paul explained his zero-grazing unit needed repairs and he was in the process of carrying them out before I went to evaluate the cattle.

Pigs were housed in a clean stone and concrete structure with good ventilation, roofed with iron sheets. All the animals on Paul’s farm were in good body condition and were kept very clean.

INSURE THE ANIMALS

There are floodlights on the farm and a siren operated by the guards for security. The farm also has a stone and chain link perimeter fence with a metal entrance gate.

Fredrick finally gave his verdict, noting they will insure the animals once I submitted a professional health and market value evaluation report.

However, before leaving, he gave an explanation of the insurance concept for the benefit of the farmer and his manager.

According to him, insurance only helps the farmer to do his business without incurring losses due to unavoidable circumstances such as theft and death of animals from unknown causes, diseases that have no preventive measures or diseases that defy scientifically proven treatments.

Farmers must understand that insurance cover does not pay for losses that arise from negligence or laxity. If animals die of preventable diseases such as anthrax and foot and mouth disease due to failure to vaccinate or the farmer using unlicensed service providers, then the insurance cover becomes null and void and cannot be honoured.

Jane asked what happens with animals that have a short production life such as pigs, which stay on the farm for six months before they are slaughtered, yet the insurance premium is paid for a year.

Fredrick said such animals are insured as batches because they are produced as such. Once one batch is sold, there is another one that attains the category of the one that exited and, therefore, is covered by the remaining period of the premium.

This arrangement also encourages farmers to keep their production cycles regular so that they are covered by insurance throughout the year.

The farmer must always remember to top up their premium if the number of animals on the farm exceeds the number initially insured because the insurance only compensates for the total number insured.